Using a Shopping List May Aid Food Desert Residents

For residents of areas with limited access to healthful foods, also known as food deserts, risks for poor diet and being overweight or obese are increased. Researchers from the RAND Corporation, however, found that the use of a list when shopping among low-income, predominantly black participants living in food deserts was associated with a better-quality diet and lower weight. Their results are published in the May-June issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Using a list when shopping can be helpful in limiting extraneous purchases and counter the effects of marketing of unhealthful options. Shopping lists serve many functions for consumers, including acting as a memory aid, limiting impulse purchases, and providing structure to encourage good eating habits and preserving financial resources. For food desert residents, in particular, use of a shopping list might also optimize purchases during trips to distant, less frequently visited stores. Throughout summer and fall of 2011, a study was conducted to assess the effects of shopping list use among 1,372 adult, primary household food shoppers from two food desert areas in Pittsburgh.

Data collectors went door-to-door to survey participants on socio-demographic characteristics; personal details such as height and weight, which were used to calculate BMI; and diet. Those enrolled in the study were primarily black (91%), female (74%), and had an income less than $20,000 yearly (80%). For their time, survey respondents were given $25 for the initial dietary recall and an additional $15 for a second diet recall one week later.

"Participants who reported always using a list had significantly higher dietary quality, were more likely to be female and older, and less likely to be employed or to have low or very low food security," says lead author Tamara Dubowitz, ScD, MSc, SM, a senior policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "Individuals who reported always shopping with a list had slightly better dietary quality and slightly lower weight."

Although the conclusion that using shopping lists leads to lower weight isn't justified by this study alone, the results confirm that using a shopping list may be useful for high-risk, low-income individuals who live in food deserts. Likewise, the benefits of using a list while shopping are enhanced by the fact that it's easily implemented and has no cost. The authors recommend future research to validate these findings.

— Source: Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior