Issue addressed: Obesity is at crisis proportions. Individuals of low socio-economic status (SES) are more likely to consume higher energy dense diets than their high socio-economic status counterparts. The contribution of supermarket purchases of energy dense, nutrient poor foods has not been well-researched and has largely depended on unverified self-report.
Methods: We estimated the proportion of supermarket shelf space dedicated to non-core foods in nine supermarkets (in five high and four low SES areas) in metropolitan Sydney. We analysed 204 shoppers' dockets (102 from high and 102 from low SES areas) for purchases of confectionery; sugar sweetened, carbonated beverages and cordials, sweet biscuits and cakes, and crisps and popcorn.
Results: After adjusting for the number of people shopped for, low SES shoppers purchased significantly more non-core foods than high SES shoppers (p=0.039), especially chips and sugar sweetened, carbonated beverages and cordials. There was no difference in the shelf space dedicated to non-core foods, or between non-core foods purchased and the proportion of shelf space occupied by them in either low or high SES areas.
Conclusions: Increased purchase of non-core foods by low SES shoppers who are already at higher risk of obesity than high SES shoppers is cause for concern. Further research is required to explore underlying reasons for this association.