Trying to shrink your food budget by clipping coupons could fatten up your waistline, says a new study.
The study, published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, looked at more than 1,000 online couples from six major grocery store chains and found that coupons often cut costs of fattening, sugar-filled foods, such as chips, crackers, sweets and sugary drinks. Few stores offered discounts on healthier options, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products or lean meats.
“We know from other studies that when you lower the price of foods, people buy more of them,” says study author Hilary Seligman, M.D., assistant professor in residence at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine. “When junk foods are the foods stores are lowering the prices of, we shouldn’t be surprised that more of them are purchased.
Processed snack foods (chips, crackers, desserts) received the largest coupon reduction, followed by 14 percent for frozen dinners and other prepared meals; 12 percent for beverages (half of which were for sugary beverages); 11 percent for cereals; 10 percent for condiments, including salad dressing and mayonnaise; and 8 percent for processed meats, such as hot dogs and bacon. Four percent of coupons cut prices on dairy products, while 3 percent reduced the price of fruits and veggies and 1 percent lowered the price of lean meats.
The research isn’t surprising. Processed foods are the most profitable items stores sell, and they often cut deals with manufacturers to promote their products. While not shocked, Dr. Seligman calls the practice shameful. “When all the specials are for candy, sweets and processed foods, it doesn’t give the low-income consumer many choices,” she says.