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Does the availability of snack foods in supermarkets vary internationally?

Lukar E Thornton1*, Adrian J Cameron1, Sarah A McNaughton1, Wilma E Waterlander23, Marita Sodergren4, Chalida Svastisalee5, Laurence Blanchard6, Angela D Liese7, Sarah Battersby8, Mary-Ann Carter9, Judy Sheeshka10, Sharon I Kirkpatrick11, Sandy Sherman12, Gill Cowburn13, Charlie Foster13 and David A Crawford1

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Melbourne Burwood Campus, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Melbourne 3125, Australia

2 Department of Health Sciences and the EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, VU University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

3 National Institute for Health Innovation, School of Population Health, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand

4 Centre of Family Medicine, Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, Karolinska Institutet, Huddinge, Sweden

5 Metropolitan University College, Copenhagen, Denmark

6 Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark

7 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Center for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia, USA

8 Department of Geography, University of South Carolina, Columbia, USA

9 Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington, New Zealand

10 School of Biomedical and Health Sciences, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia

11 Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, US National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, USA

12 The Food Trust, Philadelphia, USA

13 British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group, Department of Public Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:56  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-56

Published: 14 May 2013



Cross-country differences in dietary behaviours and obesity rates have been previously reported. Consumption of energy-dense snack foods and soft drinks are implicated as contributing to weight gain, however little is known about how the availability of these items within supermarkets varies internationally. This study assessed variations in the display of snack foods and soft drinks within a sample of supermarkets across eight countries.


Within-store audits were used to evaluate and compare the availability of potato chips (crisps), chocolate, confectionery and soft drinks. Displays measured included shelf length and the proportion of checkouts and end-of-aisle displays containing these products. Audits were conducted in a convenience sample of 170 supermarkets across eight developed nations (Australia, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, United Kingdom (UK), and United States of America (US)).


The mean total aisle length of snack foods (adjusted for store size) was greatest in supermarkets from the UK (56.4 m) and lowest in New Zealand (21.7 m). When assessed by individual item, the greatest aisle length devoted to chips, chocolate and confectionery was found in UK supermarkets while the greatest aisle length dedicated to soft drinks was in Australian supermarkets. Only stores from the Netherlands (41%) had less than 70% of checkouts featuring displays of snack foods or soft drinks.


Whilst between-country variations were observed, overall results indicate high levels of snack food and soft drinks displays within supermarkets across the eight countries. Exposure to snack foods is largely unavoidable within supermarkets, increasing the likelihood of purchases and particularly those made impulsively.

Snack foods; Food environment; Supermarket; International comparison