Miriam Donohoe

Saturday 26 July 2014

It's a bit rich blaming the supermarkets for adults filling up on sweets at checkouts

Miriam Donohoe

Published 15/02/2014|02:30

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Stop blaming the kids – adults are as bad when it come to sweet treats.
Stop blaming the kids – adults are as bad when it come to sweet treats.

YOU know the story. You trawl around a packed supermarket carefully selecting healthy options from the shelves. You look with pride at your trolley stuffed with vegetables, fruit, and low-fat goodies.

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You get to the checkout feeling rather smug when in a moment of weakness you are seduced by sweets tantalisingly stacked in front of you.

All your great work falls apart – you succumb.

New research reveals that our major supermarkets have failed to remove sweets from checkouts, despite pressure from the healthy eating watchdog Safefood.

A survey commissioned by the healthy eating organisation found that half of shoppers find it hard to resist sweets and crisps at supermarket tills. Some 73pc of us say having junk food at checkouts contributes to obesity, and 29pc claim they would be more likely to shop at stores where it is banned from the tills.

Safefood has now written to the chief executives of the five main supermarket chains in Ireland to ask them to support customers trying to make healthy choices by introducing sweet-free checkouts. They are "disappointed" that so far none had given a firm commitment to do so.

All us parents know about pester power, and how annoyingly persuasive our kids can be at times. And we are aware of the stats about the alarming increase in childhood obesity rates, and the fact that it has never been more important to take action.

But it is very unfair to blame our children – and indeed supermarkets, who are only feeding a demand, so to speak – for the fact that it is us adults who are mainly the guilty ones when it comes to forking out to gorge on junk food.

It is too easy to point the finger at the supermarket multiples and to demand that we have guilt-free checkouts. Parents have the knowledge, and must now develop the will power, to fight their sweet demons when it comes to what is put in the weekly shopping trolley.

It is a cop-out to blame it on nagging kids, and to say we had to give in to buy them that bar of chocolate or those additive-laced sweets to get them off your back and to ensure a moment of peace.

In my experience it has been as easy to keep a tired and cranky child quiet by feeding them a piece of fruit or a biscuit after battling the supermarket aisles.

I am gone beyond the stage of dragging small kids around the supermarket in a trolley. If my two were with me it would be the off- licence section and cans of cheap beer that they would be targeting rather than the sweet counter.

But I see with my own eyes on my weekly shop furtive parents looking longingly at the irresistible own-brand and great value chocolate bars and loading them into the trolley. Hands up – I am guilty myself.

And it is us parents who sneakily unwrap the goodies when the kids are tucked into bed (or in my case gone out on the town) and gorge ourselves as we slump out in front of the TV.

It is easy for supermarkets to succumb to the calls from healthy eating and parents' groups and to score a PR coup by announcing they are removing all sweets, chocolates and crisps from checkouts.

This is exactly what happened with Lidl when it announced in mid-January that it was "cleaning up" its checkouts in its 600 UK stores. The result? Not a drop in obesity levels but hundreds of column inches of free publicity in newspapers and on line. And sugar-coated kudos to boot.

I don't think a ban on sweets at the checkout will go very far in helping to reduce the obesity epidemic sweeping developed countries. Sure, the sweets are still near at hand and only a few yards away in one of the supermarket aisles.

It will take far more than re-arranging checkouts to make a real impact on child obesity. This will require a lot more education, and maybe a fat tax might help too.

The reality is that one in every four children on the island of Ireland is overweight.

Yes there is potential for Irish supermarkets to play a role in helping parents to make healthier choices for their children. But ultimately is it up to the parents to take control themselves, and to resist making the bad choices when they get into line at supermarket checkouts, both for themselves and their children.

Remember this when you queue up at the supermarket checkout this weekend. And stop blaming the kids.

Irish Independent

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