Can you guess where people buy most of their junk food?
Chances are that fast-food restaurants like McDonald's and Burger King come to mind.
A new study described in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, however, reveals that U.S. adults buy the bulk of their empty-calorie foods and sugar-sweetened beverages at grocery stores and supermarkets.
The new findings challenge the "food desert" hypothesis, which states that a lack of access to supermarkets and grocery stores in some underserved communities worsens the obesity crisis by restricting people's access to healthy foods.
In other words, contrary to popular belief, access to healthy foods in a supermarket does not hinder Americans' consumption of empty calories.
The study looked at data from 4,204 adults who reported their daily food intake in two nonconsecutive 24-hour periods in 2011 and 2012. The analysis determined that nearly half (46.3 percent) of U.S. adults consume sugar-sweetened beverages and roughly 89 percent eat discretionary foods such as cakes, ice cream, cookies, candy, and popcorn on any given day.
The researchers found that sugar-sweetened beverages add an average 213 calories per day to the diet, while discretionary foods add, on average, 439 calories each day.
Supermarket shelves account for the largest portion of those products. Two-thirds of discretionary foods and more than half of the sugar-sweetened beverages are bought in supermarkets and grocery stores.
Furthermore, supermarket purchases of these items are about two to four times as large as all the other sources combined, from fast-food restaurants and full-service restaurants to vending machines and convenience stores,
Supermarkets also remain the largest source of healthy food, but it'd be silly to think that's all people are buying.
If anything, this study demonstrates that healthy foods at the grocery store -- from whole grain bread to fat-free pudding -- hardly deter many shoppers from buying fattening foods like frozen pizza and potato chips.
I drink only Diet Coke, but I know very few people who do the same. In fact, I wouldn't expect people to shun regular Coca-Cola just because they have the option to grab Diet soft drinks. Many consumers simply don't like the taste of Diet Coke, nor do they fancy salads, vegetables, and other healthy items that generally don't taste as good as junk food.
I did assume that most consumers got their junk food fix at fast food chains, but it's easy to see why that isn't so. People are unlikely to go to Burger King on a Monday and buy enough cheeseburgers and fries to last them through the week. It seems more plausible, however, that they would go to the grocery store to stock up on foods that will last a lot longer, including canned spaghetti and microwavable dinners.
So keep this in mind: If you're trying to cut down, focus your attention on healthy stuff next time you're at the supermarket. If junk foods happen to catch your eye, there's a good chance you'll grab and shell out cash for them.