Paying the price for junk food

By Kim Libby • Published: May 17th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

For many Americans, a trip down the grocery store aisle is not always paved with good intentions. We all know it’s tough to resist the gleam of the cheesy popcorn bag and the fluffiness of the jumbo Twinkies, but would these foods lose their sparkle with a heftier price tag? A recent study in the journal Psychological Science says they just might.

In an effort to find practical ways to battle obesity, researchers recruited shoppers and gave them a set amount of cash to buy groceries at a mock supermarket, where all of the items were labeled with nutritional information.

The hungry participants went shopping multiple times… once with items at normal prices, then with junk food taxed an additional twelve-and-a-half percent, then another twenty-five. The last time, healthier foods were on sale to reduce their cost.

The study found that when junk food was taxed, shoppers shied away from the crazy amounts of calories. Yet, instead of reaching for that extra carrot stick when it was cheaper to go healthier, most used the extra cash to pick up another six-pack of Coke. This made for visits with higher total calorie counts, and did not show any nutritional improvement.

So, even though you are sure you would buy that pea-green magical organic juice if it were a few pennies cheaper, the experts still call your bluff. Researchers stress the information should show higher prices do not always mean less consumption. At least in this study, the crunch of a chip or the fizz of a soda is still simply irresistible.