Unhealthy food dominated the weekly grocery store flyers. As much as two thirds of the space was taken up by less healthy foods according to a study from the University of Gothenburg. The advertising does not seem to support healthy choices, say the researchers.

The study, now published in the scientific journal BMC Public Health, analyzed weekly advertisement flyers from 122 grocery stores in Västra Götaland County, published during a four-week period in spring 2020. The stores included are among the seven largest grocery chains in Sweden based on market share.

The health quality of the foods included in the flyers was analyzed using the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations and the World Health Organization’s European guidelines. Each store was also given a value based on Statistics Sweden’s socio-economic index classification.

Two thirds of the stores’ flyers consisted of foods that could be classified as unhealthy or essentially unhealthy. In total, almost 30 000 products were analyzed. The most common food category was high-sugar foods and drinks.

Not in line with recommendations

The advertisements are therefore not in line with the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations on which the Swedish National Food Agency bases the Swedish dietary guidelines, the researchers conclude.

Some food chains with stores in areas where residents have poorer economic conditions also seem to market more unhealthy food compared to areas where residents are better off.

Individuals have a great responsibility to make healthy food choices, but far from all choices are conscious. Advertising is also particularly important, especially in times of soaring food prices.

“The consumer’s own values in combination with the surrounding environment affect what is ultimately bought at home, but pricing is an important factor,” says Melissa Mj√∂berg, a researcher in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, and first author of the study.

Questioning campaigns is important

“As a consequence of the current food inflation, advertisements with many discounted products may become more significant for certain consumer groups, such as those with difficult financial situations,” she continues. It is therefore urgent to question the range of products in grocery store promotions.

The results of the study exemplify a part of the food environment that neither supports the individual consumer to make healthy choices, nor a national public health effort. Reducing health inequalities is an important objective in this work.

Monica Hunsberger is a senior lecturer and the last author of the study:

“The design of consumers’ physical and digital food environment should facilitate healthy choices, and actors who play a significant part of that design must take joint responsibility. Here, national dietary recommendations can provide a common guideline for what to promote,” she says.

Title: Supermarket promotions in Western Sweden are incompatible with Nordic dietary recommendations and differ by area-level socioeconomic index, https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-023-15729-1

Contact: Melissa Mjöberg, phone +46 720 83 56 80, email melissa.mjoberg@gu.se

Image: Melissa Mjöberg (photo: University of Gothenburg)

Presskontakt: Margareta G. Kubista, tel. 0705 30 19 80, press@sahlgrenska.gu.se