Zorba Paster: Checkout Lines Can Be Test Of Willpower

A Teaching Moment For A Healthier Child, A Healthier Adult

checkout line
Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

When you check out at the grocery, do you look at the sweets like I do? I find myself wondering if I’m going to buy a Hershey’s bar — I love the ones with almonds — or some other sweet. Then, I read the label and realize these are 210 calories that I don’t need.

What comes next?

Two animated figures from my imagination.

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The one on my left shoulder is red, has horns and is holding a pitchfork. He says, “You’ve been good all day, just buy it.”

The other one says, “You deserve to be healthy, don’t screw it up.”

Guess who wins?

I’ll leave that up to you.

The problem when I shop is that the people behind me in my local grocer know me. If I get the candy, I often get a comment like, “Really? And you give us advice?”

The bigger issue here is that the candy is at the right height for children to see. You’re checking out, they see the stuff, you don’t want to buy it for them, they know you’re at the checkout counter so you might just give in. And the beat goes on.

That’s where a recent article in the British Medical Journal fits in. A group of grocery stores in the United Kingdom committed to having healthier products at the checkout line.

When you give your “frequent buyer” card to get a discount at many grocery stores, they keep track of your purchases. They know everything you buy. So these grocers in the UK took 30,000 households and analyzed their candy purchases from before the checkout line change and after.

The difference was evident. There were 20 percent fewer candy purchases when the checkout line was free of candy.

My spin: I don’t see this checkout change happening anytime soon here on a permanent basis, but one thing you might do as a parent is to find something in the store that his healthier for your kid. Get them involved in the purchase, so when you arrive at the checkout line you don’t go through the sweets drama. This is one of those family teaching moments for a healthier child and a healthier adult.