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Study: Coupons favor wallet, not our health

Photo: Carol Pyles via Flickr

Are you planning to go to the grocery store this week? If you’re like most Americans, chances are you’ll grab some coupons before heading out the door. Unfortunately, a new study published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease unveiled that what you may save in money will likely cost you in nutrition.

After analyzing the foods on more than a thousand coupons during the four week study period, researchers found that:

  • 25 percent of coupons, the largest category, were for processed snack foods, candies and desserts
  • 14 percent were for prepared meals
  • 12 percent were for discounted beverages (more than half of which were for sodas, kids drinks, sports/energy drinks, etc.)
  • Three percent were for vegetables
  • Less than one percent were for fruits and unprocessed meats

The impact on Americans and their health is widespread. A national survey conducted in 2012 by the Nielsen Company concluded “Approximately 279 million shoppers regularly use coupons to save money at the grocery store.”

“It’s not really surprising,” said Jayne Fulkerson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Nursing and director of the Center for Child and Family Health Promotion Research. “Junk foods have brand names that are easier to promote through coupons because they are often prepackaged goods. Many of our frozen fruits and vegetables are associated with brand names but many of our fresh varieties are not.”

Thankfully, there are ways to still eat healthy on a budget even if you don’t have any coupons. After a simple web search, we found these healthy and cheaper food options:

  • Tuna costs around $1 a can and is a great source of protein
  • 100% whole wheat bread can be purchased for around $2-3 a loaf
  • Low-fat yogurt can deliver half-a-day’s calcium in a single serving
  • Bananas are good for your brain and are high in potassium which helps maintain normal blood pressure and heart function
  • Broccoli is one of the healthiest foods you can eat and is known to reduce cholesterol and is high in fiber making it great for digestive health
  • Brown rice, bought by the pound, offers both fiber and protein

As the study’s authors suggest, grocery stores hold an immense amount of power to influence Americans’ dietary patterns.

“Talk with your grocer about putting more fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthful foods on sale or try purchasing nutritional foods in bulk and split the cost with friends or family,” said Fulkerson.

No matter what route you may choose, before you use coupons, make sure to weigh both costs and benefits of coupons in terms of both money and your nutrition.

Read more about the studies’ findings on MinnPost.

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