When it comes to helping people make healthier snacktime choices, tackling impulsivity might be the best place to start.

Research in the UK has found that the simple act of removing sugary snacks from store checkout areas helped people cut down on the number of unhealthy treats they buy. A study of 30,000 people’s shopping habits – measured over a four-week cycle – found that in the period immediately following the removal of snacks from the checkout area sales fell substantially.

Some UK supermarkets have voluntarily relocated unhealthy snacks, and a government-led consultation on whether this ought to be mandated by law is anticipated.

The researchers focused their attention on nine of the UK’s best-known supermarkets from 2013 to 2017. They tracked purchases made in the 12 months before the self-imposed bans on checkout snack locations, and the 12 months after.

Their findings showed an immediate drop in sales – equivalent to a 17.3% reduction: over the 12 month post-ban period the reduction was 15.5%.

Last year, the UK government introduced the Soft Drinks Industry Levy – referred to more colloquially as the sugar tax. Paid by the drinks’ manufacturers, the levy is:

  • 24p per litre of drink if it contains 8 grams of sugar per 100 millilitres
  • 18p per litre of drink if it contains between 5 grams and 8 grams of sugar per 100 millilitres

Many manufacturers took up the challenge to reduce the sugar content of their drinks, resulting in a drop in the first year’s expected levy collection from £520 million ($663 million) to £240 million ($306 million). Expanding the scope of the levy to include snacks and unhealthy foods – the pudding tax, as it’s being referred to – could be the next step.

Around one-third of schoolchildren in England are obese by the time they leave primary school at the age of 11, and maybe as many as 80% of obese teenagers will continue being overweight in adulthood. Globally, obesity is one of the three greatest social burdens generated by human beings, along with smoking and armed conflict. It costs the global economy some $2 trillion per year.

Image: OECD

Since 1975, the incidence of obesity has almost tripled. More than 650 million people are living with obesity, according to the World Health Organization. That could rise to 850 million by 2025, if no action is taken. This further increases the likelihood of a significant rise in poor health and premature death caused by a range of preventable, lifestyle-related illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

In addition, increasing rates of obesity around the world undermine one of the key aims of the third UN Sustainable Development Goal – “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” by 2030.