Supermarkets not promoting healthy food, study finds

Australia’s biggest supermarkets could be doing much more to encourage healthy food purchases.


According to a first-of-its-kind study ranking the nutrition policies of Australia's biggest supermarkets, they have a very poor commitment to obesity prevention and to nutrition.

The report by researchers at the Global Obesity Centre in the Deakin University School of Health and Social Development, assessed Woolworths, Coles, Aldi and IGA’s policies and commitments related to obesity prevention and nutrition.

Woolworths ranked highest scoring only 46 out of 100 on the obesity prevention and nutrition scorecard.  IGA was the weakest performer with a score of just eight.

Working carers striving to ensure nutritious food is served in their homes, to keep them and their loved ones healthy, could use the research findings to make better purchasing choices.

Foods poor in nutrition lead to ill health – especially if consumed regularly and over long timeframes. Ill-health leads to more stress and higher medical bills – two things working carers and their loved ones can well do without.

Lead author Associate Professor Gary Sacks said supermarkets had a critical role to play in obesity prevention.

"The vast majority of Australians buy their food at supermarkets, and the way these shops are set up can heavily influence what we buy," he said.

"This power has only grown with the significant increase in sales of own-brand products in recent years, which has meant that supermarkets are now also our biggest food manufacturers."

The study took into consideration six different criteria, including whether home-brand products have healthy formulations, whether unhealthy foods are advertised to children and teenagers and the pricing strategies used to market both junk and healthy foods.

Associate Professor Sacks said there were excellent examples from other countries of ways supermarkets could support customers to choose a healthier mix of products in their baskets.

"Several UK supermarkets have committed to provide healthy checkouts, with no chocolates, soft drinks or lollies on display. Supermarkets in other countries also have a much higher proportion of healthy products featured in their weekly catalogues.

"This shows that there is a real opportunity for Australian supermarkets to follow suit and make a positive contribution to the health of our communities.

"Unhealthy diets and obesity are leading contributors to poor health in Australia. Tackling the issue requires a comprehensive societal response, including government policy and wide-scale action from the food industry, which includes our supermarkets."

Read more at the CHOICE and Deakin University websites: