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Supermarkets put junk food on special twice as often as healthy food, and that’s a problem

Half-price chips, “two for one” chocolates, “buy one get one free” soft drinks: Australian supermarkets make it very easy for us to fill our trolleys with junk food.

Add in the bonus of an Ooshie or a Little Shop collectable and you’re likely going home with a pile of products that will fill out both your pantry and your waistline.

We looked at supermarket specials over a year to see how healthy they were. The results of our research, published August 16, show junk foods are discounted, on average, twice as often as healthy foods.

Australians buy about two-thirds of their food and drink at the supermarket, and 40% of their foods on special. We know environments dominated by heavily promoted junk foods are a key driver of unhealthy diets.

Where unhealthy diets are one of the leading contributors to poor health in Australia, the way supermarkets apply discounts needs to change. We all love a bargain, but we may be paying the real price with our health.

Junk foods attract more specials, and bigger discounts

In our research, junk foods included chocolate, chips, confectionery, ice cream and high-sugar breakfast cereals. We found these sorts of products were on special twice as often as healthy foods – 29% versus 15% of the time.

We also looked at how discounts varied according to the healthiness of the products. We assessed the “healthiness” of foods using the Health Star Rating system – an Australian government-endorsed scheme that gives each product a score out of five.

We found the more stars a food product had, the less often it was on special, and the smaller the discount when it was. Discounts applied to junk foods were, on average, almost twice as large as discounts on healthier options (26% off versus 15% off).

A similar recent study of drink specials in supermarkets over a year found almost half of all drink specials were for sugar-sweetened beverages (soft drinks, sports and energy drinks, and cordials). Within drink categories, twice as many sugar-sweetened beverages were on special compared to specials for milk and water (34% versus 15% of the time).

How do supermarkets decide what to discount?

The way supermarkets choose what products are on special each week is complex.

Food manufacturers pay large premiums to have their products featured in supermarket catalogues, at end-of-aisle displays or near the checkout. The arrangements between food manufacturers and supermarkets are often governed by contracts that specify the way products are to be promoted.

Consumers will often make purchasing decisions based on what’s on special.

Food manufacturers and supermarkets know unhealthy food is often bought on impulse, making price discounts a great way to entice customers to make those impulse choices.

Despite their claims to be healthy places to shop, supermarkets are major culprits in pushing junk food upon us.

Does it have to be this way?

If Australia is serious about addressing its obesity crisis, the way junk food is promoted in our supermarkets needs serious review. There’s a real opportunity for both supermarkets and food manufacturers to take the lead in helping to encourage healthier eating.

Big supermarket chains stock more than 30,000 products. Most large food manufacturers have a wide variety of products, ranging from more healthy to less healthy. Supermarkets and food manufacturers could work together to put healthier options on special more often.

Government regulation may play a role, too. Governments around the world are starting to recognise the role of price discounts in driving unhealthy diets. There are current proposals in the UK and Scotland to use government regulations to restrict price discounts for unhealthy products.

There are several ways governments in Australia could step in to limit the impact of unhealthy discounting, including:

  • restricting the proportion of unhealthy food allowed to be discounted
  • restricting multi-buy specials (such as “buy one get one free”) on unhealthy products
  • reducing the size of discounts on unhealthy food
  • restricting the advertising of price discounts (for example, through signage).

Supermarkets of the future

Imagine what it would be like to shop at a supermarket where healthier food was on special more often, and with bigger discounts. Where customers were enticed by discounted fruit and vegetables instead of half price chips, chocolate and soft drinks.

Australian supermarkets have already taken some positive steps to make their stores healthier, including an increased focus on fresh food. Extending this to improving the healthiness of their discounts could have a real benefit on the health of generations to come.

Adrian Cameron, Associate professor, and Associate Director of the Global Obesity Centre, Deakin University; Christina Zorbas, PhD Candidate, Deakin University; Devorah Riesenberg, Research fellow, Deakin University; Gary Sacks, Associate Professor, Deakin University, and Kathryn Backholer, Senior research fellow, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
The Conversation


New embryo DNA test speeding up IVF and cutting miscarriage

A world-first DNA screening test for embryos is speeding up IVF, reducing miscarriages and giving fresh hope to would be parents on the Gold Coast.

Monash IVF Specialist Dr Kee Ong and his team are now able to test embryos by taking a sample of DNA fragments in the surrounding fluid, instead of the current and invasive biopsy procedure that can potentially damage or destroy weaker embryos.

Dr Kee Ong said the revolutionary test opens up a world of possibility for patients, in particular older mums and patients who have suffered repeated miscarriage.

“For the first time, we can identify the healthiest embryos with zero risk involved. The existing biopsy technique can not be performed on all embryos so many patients missed out,” Dr Ong said.

“Around 40 percent of patients who want to have genetic testing are unable to because their embryos are not strong enough to survive the procedure or the risk is too high. This new test is suitable for ALL embryos,” he said.

Available exclusively to Monash IVF patients, Dr Ong said the test will also reduce the number of babies born with genetic problems.

“One in six Australian couples struggle with infertility and the risk of chromosomal disorders is higher later in life when many women seek IVF treatment,” Dr Ong said.

“This journey is extremely stressful physically, emotionally and financially. Anything we can do to simplify the process, shorten the time it takes to achieve a healthy pregnancy and give patients peace of mind is an incredible thing.”

The new testing treatment is also a lot cheaper than the traditional method, as the process is quicker and less invasive.

“By making sure patients are having transfers with the healthiest embryos, we are reducing the frustration and we are also reducing the cost of the treatment,” Dr Ong said.

“Chromosomal disorders don’t just lead to babies born with Down Syndrome, a lot of those chromosomally abnormal embryos won’t take to begin with, so it makes it more difficult to fall pregnant or you may fall pregnant and miscarry,” Dr Ong said.

Overall, Dr Ong the test will increase the chance people will fall pregnant when they have an IVF transfer and reduce the chance of miscarriage once they are.

“We’re excited to be the only clinic on the Gold Coast offering this medical breakthrough and excited to already see first-hand the massive impact for our patients.”

For more information and to learn more about the embryo DNA test, visit:

New Active and Healthy program launches on the Gold Coast

Mayor Tom Tate has linked up with a member of the Gold Coast Titans and the Gold Coast Suns to launch a new Active and Healthy program.

Titans player Jai Arrow and Suns player Sam Collins joined the Mayor for a pilates class in Carrara today, to encourage all Gold Coasters to get active.

There are currently over 170 free or low-cost activities on offer across the Gold Coast every week, which the Mayor hopes will inspire locals.

“This year, our focus is on empowering people to say I CAN. With more than 170 free or low cost activities on offer across the city each week, it’s easy to get motivated and get moving.

“This year’s theme – I CAN – is all about being inspired and empowered to live a healthy lifestyle and what better inspiration than our football players – our city’s active and healthy role models.

“Around a quarter of the city’s population already participates in the program but lack of regular physical activity is still a massive issue.

“Our goal is to get more of the City doing 30 mins of moderate physical activity a few days a week,” Mayor Tate said.

Titans player Jai Arrow said as a professional athlete, he understands how important it is to look after himself physically and mentally.

“Even though I’ve got an ankle injury at the moment, it hasn’t stopped me. I’m still doing weights, walking and swimming,” he said.

GC Suns player Sam Collins said I CAN was about everyone in the community getting active and healthy, regardless of cost and fitness levels.

“It’s about believing in yourself. Whether it’s surfing, walking or playing footy, we CAN all get involved to improve our overall wellbeing,” said Sam.

For more information about activities on offer, click here.

Now here’s a photo of the Mayor doing pilates.

PHOTO | Supplied by COGC

Walk For Women

Registrations open for Gold Coast Walk for Women’s Cancers

Gold Coasters are being urged to unite in pink to create hope for every woman’s future.

Registrations have now opened for the annual Walk for Women’s Cancer event being held at Kurrawa Park on Saturday September 21 from 8am.

The event is a family-friendly, fun walk for participants of all abilities, with funds raised going towards Cancer Council Queensland’s research for life-saving treatments and support programs for women affected by cancer.

Cancer Council Queensland CEO Chris McMillian encouraged all Gold Coast locals to unite and walk towards a cancer free future this September.

“One in six Queensland women will be diagnosed with breast or gynaecological cancers in their lifetime,” Ms McMillan said.

“Getting involved might only seem like a small way to make an impact, but your contribution makes a lasting difference to locals touched by this disease.

“Walk with us this year to give hope to all Queensland women affected by cancer.”

Locals can enjoy $5 off their registration until July 31 by using the code ‘EARLYBIRD’. To register for the Walk for Women’s Cancer Gold Coast event, please visit

Young woman smoking a cigarette

Smokers three times more likely to die from stroke, five times more likely to develop gangrene

A DISTURBING new study has found cigarettes are causing 17 preventable deaths a day in Australia – or 6400 every year – from stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.

The comprehensive study – touted as the most in-depth of its kind in the world – found smoking was more damaging than previously thought, impacting the entire cardiovascular system.

Led by Australian National University Professor Emily Banks, researchers followed more than 180,000 smokers and non-smokers for seven years, examining 36 different types of cardiovascular diseases.

The study found Australia’s 2.7 million smokers were twice as likely to suffer a stroke, heart attack or heart failure, and were three times as likely to die from these diseases compared to people who had never smoked.

It also found smokers were five times more likely to develop peripheral cardiovascular diseases such as gangrene.

Limiting the number of cigarettes smoked daily also doesn’t help much, with the research finding people who smoke an average five cigarettes a day were still twice as likely to be killed by cardiovascular disease.

Those who quit for good, however, and stop smoking by the age of 45 are said to avoid about 90 per cent of the cardiovascular risks.

Stroke Foundation Clinical Council Member Associate Professor Seana Gall said the study showed that at least 30 percent of strokes could be prevented if we could eliminate smoking altogether.

“Too many families continue to be devastated by stroke and heart disease when it could have been prevented,’’ Acting Professor Gall said.

“It doesn’t matter what age you are or how many cigarettes you smoke, they are all causing harm, but the good news is by quitting, individuals can reverse this damage and live a long healthy life.”

Smoking can lead to stroke in a number of ways.

It increases blood pressure, it contains thousands of toxic chemicals which get absorbed into the blood stream damaging blood vessels and causing arteries to narrow and harden and it makes the blood stickier, which can lead to blood clots.

Acting Professor Gall said Australia was tracking well in reducing smoking rates and stopping teens from taking up the habit in the first place, however more must be done.

“While smoking prevalence has fallen over time, around 2.7 million Australians currently smoke and we must continue to help people quit through government measures and anti-smoking campaigns,’’ she said.

“I recognise giving up smoking is hard, and you may not be able to do it the first or even the second attempt, but saying goodbye to cigarettes is worth it for yourself and those who love you.”

The new data was published in the international journal BMC Medicine on Thursday.

Talk to your doctor about quitting or call the national Quitline on 12 78 48 (13 QUIT).