PHRC Phase 2 (2011-2019) projects – Projects related to diet and obesity

Exploring the impact of removing less healthy food from retail checkouts

Lead investigator

Professor Martin White, Centre for Diet & Activity Research (CEDAR), MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge


The display and promotion of less healthy foods at supermarket checkouts has become commonplace, resulting in impulse purchases and child purchasing requests. Three UK grocery retailers (Aldi, Lidl and Tesco) had recently committed to remove confectionary from checkouts in all their stores. The impact of such policies on food purchases had not been evaluated.


  1. Clarify the commitments of the major UK supermarkets to healthier checkouts
  2. Determine adherence of Aldi, Lidl and Tesco to their commitments to remove less healthy checkout food; and compare their alternative checkout products with those of UK supermarkets that have not yet made such commitments
  3. Compare the sales of common HFSS checkout foods (identified in (2)), over time to explore the relative proportion of total sales of HFSS foods from checkouts versus other store areas
  4. Assess whether committing to healthier checkouts has any distributional impacts on sales of common HFSS checkout foods (identified in (2)) by socio-economic position of consumers
  5. Explore parents’ experiences of, and views on, promotion and placement of common checkout food and non-food products (identified in (2))
  6. Explore experiences relating to changing checkout food, and views on the challenges and opportunities for further action in this area amongst relevant, senior stakeholders, including: those working for major UK grocery and other retailers, Public Health England, the Department of Health, local government and 3rd sector organisations.


We used in-store observations across the eight leading supermarket chains, together with analysis of commercially available data on sales of products from different supermarkets, over a time, before and after introduction of restrictive checkout sales policies. Qualitative focus group discussions with parents and interviews with stakeholders will assess views on checkout sales and associated policies.


Removing less healthy food from checkouts is a simple voluntary intervention that seems to be acceptable to some supermarkets. It is widely advocated by parents and forms the subject of current pressure group campaigns. It may thus be relatively straightforward to regulate more widely by government or using voluntary agreements. Its impact remained unknown but could have a plausible impact on the diets in adults and children.


  • Dr Jean Adams, Centre for Diet & Activity Research (CEDAR), MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Ashley Adamson, Institute of Health & Society, Newcastle University
  • Dr Martine Stead, Institute of Social Marketing, Stirling University

Duration: 01/04/2016 – 31/03/2018 (24 months)