Can coupons make you fat?

Can coupons make you fat?  A new study suggests that coupons, which tend to be for unhealthy foods, are not helping in the war on obesity.

Researchers looked at all of the grocery coupons offered by six large, national grocery chains during a one month period.

They wanted to see how many discounts were offered for nutritious vs. less nutritious foods (high sugar foods, snacks and “empty calorie” foods.)


Does this coupon make me look fat?

The month’s coupon clipping netted almost 1,000 coupons that were redeemable for food and beverage items. Here’s what they found when they broke down the coupons into categories:

  • Fully 25% of the coupons were for candy, processed snack foods and desserts.
  • 14% were for some form of prepared foods or meals (TV dinners, frozen entrees, etc.).
  • 12% were for juices, soda, energy drinks, sports drinks and other beverages.
  • 11% were for cereals (the researchers didn’t differentiate between high sugar cereals, whole grains or no added sugar varieties) and pastas.
  • 3% of coupons were for vegetables (either fresh, frozen, dried or canned).
  • 1% were for fruits (fresh, frozen, canned or dried).

These results seemed to be fairly similar no matter what region of the US the coupons were drawn from.

The researchers note that coupons are used to entice consumers to buy products yet, even with ever-increasing numbers of people looking for nutritious foods, major grocery chains are ignoring that group of customers.

“Healthful foods” generally include fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, unprocessed meats, and nuts and seeds; unhealthful foods are high in fat, sodium, and added sugars. By this metric, grocery stores’ online coupons in our study were dominated by unhealthful foods, including processed snack foods, candies, desserts, processed prepared meals, and cereals. Few coupons were available for more healthful alternatives, such as fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed meats. Our data are consistent with previous research showing that grocery stores infrequently promote foods that support a healthy weight.

They add coupons were “rarely” offered for fruits and vegetables. They would like to see more coupons offered for those, and other, healthy eating choices.

Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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