The present study aimed to examine the availability of energy-dense, nutrient-poor snack foods (and fruits and vegetables) in supermarkets located in socio-economically advantaged and disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
Cross-sectional supermarket audit.
Melbourne, Australia. Measures included product shelf space and number of varieties for soft drinks, crisps, chocolate, confectionery and fruits and vegetables, as well as store size.
Thirty-five supermarkets (response 83 %) from neighbourhoods in the lowest and highest quintile of socio-economic disadvantage.
Shelf space allocated to soft drinks (23·6 m v. 17·7 m, P = 0·006), crisps (16·5 m v. 13·0 m, P = 0·016), chocolate (12·2 m v. 10·1 m, P = 0·022) and confectionery (6·7 m v. 5·1 m, P = 0·003) was greater in stores from socio-economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods. After adjustment for store size (stores in disadvantaged areas being larger), shelf space for confectionery (6·3 m v. 5·6 m, P = 0·024) and combined shelf space for all energy-dense foods and drinks (55·0 m v. 48·9 m, P = 0·017) remained greater in stores from socio-economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods. The ratio of shelf space allocated to fruits and vegetables to that for energy-dense snack foods also varied by socio-economic disadvantage after adjustment for store size (most disadvantaged v. least disadvantaged: 1·7 v. 2·1, P = 0·025). Varieties of fruits and vegetables and chocolate bars were more numerous in less disadvantaged areas (P < 0·05).
Exposure to energy-dense snack foods and soft drinks in supermarkets was greater in socio-economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods. This may impact purchasing, consumption and cultural norms related to eating behaviours and may therefore work against elimination of the known socio-economic gradient in obesity levels. Reform of supermarket stocking practices may represent an effective means of obesity prevention.
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