Cut the Confectionery at the Checkout

For over 20 years, supermarkets have been criticised for displaying sweets , confectionary and other sugary items at their checkouts. Back in 1994, TESCO was the first British supermarket to remove sweets and chocolates from checkouts at larger stores but it took 21 years for them to agree to remove them from ALL their smaller stores, i.e. TESCO Express. As of January 1st this year, they have finally done this, Hurray! Definitely a case of better late than never, so well done TESCO for finally stepping up to the plate!

Although you might expect it to be, this decision was not one of those ‘lightbulb’ moments; TESCO conducted some research which revealed 65% of their shoppers wanted confectionery removed from checkouts to help them make healthier choices. 67% said it would help them choose healthier options for their children. Obviously they made the right evidence based decision.

In 2013 the Co-op banned displays of high fat, sugar or salt products from their checkouts and kiosks. Sainsbury’s now has a policy of no sweets or chocolate next to checkouts in its supermarkets (as do Waitrose), but not in the smaller Sainsbury’s Local stores. Why is this? If you make a decision to do something, just do it! You can’t give with one hand and take it away with the other.  To me this shouts a half-hearted commitment, where they prioritise profits over customer health. Are the customers who shop at the local stores more health conscious and able to resist persistent pest power from their children? I think not. 2013 was also the year Asda, Morrisons and Iceland were named the “worst offenders” for selling junk food at checkouts.

Back to some more good news. Like TESCO, Lidl also carried out some research (in 2013). Not that dissimilar to TESCO, Lidl’s showed that 7 out of their 10 customers would choose a sweet-free checkout over the traditional one laden with chocolate bars. It also showed 68% of parents said they were pestered by their children for chocolate at the checkout, and 66% gave in some or all of the time. So in January 2014, Lidl committed to clearing out the junk and offering healthy snack instead. Well done Lidl, great stuff!

Finally, Aldi joined the good guys this very month (January 2015) and have also committed to this campaign to clear out the junk from checkouts. So we are making progress, albeit pretty slow at times but it’s positive. We can do so much better though!

We are in the midst of a growing obesity epidemic; poor diet is to blame for overweight and obesity, tooth decay, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cancers…….I could go on. As a nation we should be reducing unnecessary sugar, saturated fat, salt and calories from our diet and one of the ways to help us do this is for supermarkets to help curb our impulse buys. You know the ones – standing in a queue, twiddling your thumbs as they check a price for the customer in front. The 3 for 2 chunky Kit Kats or £1 bags of liquorice allsorts suddenly seem so necessary and such good value too, they effortlessly land onto the conveyor belt. These impulse buys at the checkout can add several hundred unplanned calories to a family shopping basket.

When it comes to the checkout, these unhealthy products are cunningly positioned around 1m from the ground  – perfectly and very conveniently placed at eye level of a young child. Sheffield University did some research a few years ago and found no less than 90% of the products children saw, as their parents queued to pay were unhealthy!

Many supermarkets have signed up to the Government’s voluntary Responsibility Deal where they have pledged to help customers make healthier choices. They have committed to making some of their ranges lower in sugar, fat and salt . They have made more space for fruit and veg to help us reach our 5 a-day target, so what’s with all the checkout junk?!

Yes, we the public have freedom of choice but the supermarkets who are trailing behind on this matter are undermining all the efforts anyone is making who want to follow a healthier diet, particularly when it comes to our children.  I really don’t want to hear that the parent is the person who ultimately decides what a child chooses and the parent can always say ‘No’. For anyone that has taken their child shopping and encountered the relentless pestering and lie-on-the-floor-screaming-tantrums as we try to unload, pack up and pay for the shopping, will appreciate how the shopping experience can become impossible. Rather than blame and judge the parents (or grandparents etc) for this disruptive behaviour (yes I have seen the stares, eye rolling, tutting and suggestions as to why my son is creating such a scene), blame the shop!

So I would really like to know what excuses Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s Local, Asda, Morrisons and Iceland have which makes them refuse to take FULL responsibility. Every store needs a blanket policy. Surely there is more than enough evidence that DIET causes many of the UK’s health problems. Other stores have made the leap and it’s paying off for them. Why not promote healthy snacks like Lidl did last year instead?! Surely they employ nutritionists anyway, so it’s not even as if they need to employ someone to help them make the necessary changes. Blimey, even I could do it! It’s also not as if we are asking them to stop selling these products! Just move them to an aisle and display healthier snacks.

There was a great article published in the Guardian last August. It contained this paragraph:

Tom Sanders, professor of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, calls it “the walk of shame”. If you queue at an assisted checkout in M&S in Islington, you first must withstand a barricade of walnut whips (two boxes of three for only £2.50!). Then comes an onslaught of boiled sweets in nostalgic packaging, mints, magazines and batteries. Worse awaits if you wish to use a self-service checkout. You must pass through a queue management system lined with 7.5 metres of impulse buys – an obstacle course of popcorn, gummy sweets, magazines, dried fruit and “handy items” such as disposable shoe wipes. Make it through that lot, and there’s Percy Pig to greet you.

Now I will confess I have a soft spot for Percy Pigs but I don’t need them shoved in my face at every turn whilst trying to get out of the store.  If I want to buy Percy Pigs, I am pretty sure I can find them without the use of a Sat Nav.

Seriously, the Government are being too nicey nicey, the voluntary responsibility deal is not working and stores are reluctant to change. If nothing happens soon, another 20years will go by and we will have moved no further on. It really is time to get the junk off the checkouts once and for all.

I would really like to take this forward so please share this post and tweet it to your chosen store or post it on their Facebook page. Perhaps they should experience some pester power for a change.


Chocolate fact of the day no.5

 Chocolate could lower our risk of diabetes?

Whoops, this was published yesterday by mistake without me even finishing it! Lets try again…………….

Earlier this month, the Daily Mail reported that ‘eating dark  chocolate can improve thinking, decrease appetite and lower blood pressure‘. So this is where I have been going wrong all this time, I must eat more chocolate?!

I hold nothing against Daily Mail readers BUT as I often say to my students, you need to read between the lines when reading newspaper articles.  All too often the press give an over-simplistic viewpoint and in this case, potentially misleading information. According to Wikipedia (another not-always-so-reliable-source in my eyes) the Daily Mail has an average daily circulation of 1,708,006 copies with a daily readership of ~ 3.95 million – that’s an awful lot of people being taken down the wrong path!


Type 2 Diabetes is very much associated with diet and lifestyle.  It occurs as a result of excess Calorie consumption; each time we eat, we release insulin whose job it is to get glucose from our blood stream into our cells (so they can use it for energy).  Overeating (particularly excess sugar) means that our body releases loads of insulin and over time, we start to become unresponsive to it.  If insulin no longer works effectively in our body we are unable to regulate our blood sugar levels properly and we end up with high blood sugar – this is diabetes. In the UK, ~ 2.9 million people are affected by diabetes and 90% of these suffer from type 2 (Type 1 is less common and is quite different; as a result of the body not producing insulin at all).

The Mail referred to the original article, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry and revealed that an antioxidant in cocoa can prevent mice from gaining weight and that it also lowered their blood sugar levels, so they concluded dark chocolate could help prevent Type 2 Diabetes.  I have a problem with this and must say these are very premature assumptions that these effects will directly translate to humans and that even then the effect would be significant.  The antioxidant they talked about was a type of flavonoid (see yesterday’s blog) called ‘oligomeric procyanidins’, or PC for short. Apparently, these flavonoids appear to possess the greatest  anti-diabetic properties of all the polyphenols in cocoa but I don’t think this means we should all rush out and fill the cupboards with it……..not just yet!

I think we need to be cautious with these findings, certainly until we hear about further supportive evidence and remember that chocolate is still a food that could contribute to the development of Type 2 Diabetes; no matter what type of chocolate we’re eating, it will cause your blood sugar levels to rise and in light of this it’s best to limit chocolate consumption to small amounts. We need to bear in mind that any potential benefit can easily outweighed with excessive consumption.

Secondly, the calorific content of chocolate is relatively high and therefore over-consumption of chocolate could lead to weight gain, leading to obesity which also raises the risk of heart disease.  A proven method of reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes is to maintain a healthy weight, and contrary to media reports, a diet rich chocolate is not going to help you with that.

To give you an idea of what I mean, here is the fat and sugar content of the different types of chocolate.  I am not on commission for Green and Blacks, this is just the information I found (on Tesco’s website) –

Green and Blacks 85% DARK  (per 100g)

Calories 630. Carbohydrate 22.2g of which Sugars 13.8g Fat 53.5g

Green and Blacks MILK (per 100g)

Calories 545. Carbohydrate 50.4g of which Sugars 47.9g Fat 32.6g

Green and Blacks WHITE (per 100g)

Calories 580, Carbohydrate 51.3g of which Sugars 51.3g, Fat 38.2g

So even ‘just’ 40g (a typical chocolate bar amount) of the 85% cocoa bar contains ~21g fat (that’s nearly a third of a women’s daily fat allowance of 75g).  Interestingly this particular brand of dark chocolate contains the most Calories and fat, yet there we were, all thinking that dark chocolate is the best.  It might be in terms of flavonoid and tryptophan content but perhaps less is more should be the mantra with chocolate.

Sugar-01 (2)

You will see over half the white chocolate is just sugar (that’s 20.5g sugar in a 40g bar, equivalent to >4 teaspoons of the white stuff :-/ ) and the milk chocolate is not far off that either.  This is not good for stabilising your blood sugar levels and certainly not good for reducing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the long term.  Cadbury’s Dairy Milk has always been advertised as containing ‘a glass and a half of milk in every half pound bar of chocolate‘.  This marketing makes chocolate appear to be a good choice? that it could be viewed as a good source of milk, that it might even be good for you…..I am thinking of the old ‘Guinness is good for you’ advert (no that’s not true either!) So beware of advertising and marketing ploys, chocolate needs to be consumed in small amounts; foods in moderation are fine in my book.

What about diabetic chocolate?

Generally speaking, diabetic chocolate is made by replacing some or all of the sugar content with artificial sweeteners like maltitol or sorbitol.  Sweeteners are often 100’s-1000’s of times sweeter than sugar but they do not get absorbed in the gut, hence the 0 Calories value.  Oddly enough they can give quite a bitter taste and some people just can’t stand the taste of them.  We do need to be a bit careful too as sweeteners can have a laxative effect and you will certainly find this out if you eat too many of them!  Some people find diabetic chocolate to be a good alternative compared with regular chocolate, however many with diabetes find diabetic chocolate to not have enough redeeming benefits and that a little bit of the real stuff, as part of a healthy diet is a better choice.


So have a bit of the good stuff and enjoy it!

Happy Easter 🙂

Oh and I have only just found the buttons on here that mean I can change my font size, text colour and all sorts. Its only taken me 2 weeks, but at least I can make my posts look a bit more fancy now!