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Americans are less likely to buy fruit and vegetables when grocery shopping online

Americans are less likely to make healthy choices when grocery shopping online, largely because they do not trust that the courier picking products for them will choose the freshest fruit and vegetable options, a new study finds.

Researchers at New York University gathered data from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients, and found they were more likely purchase non-perishable, processed, goods rather than fresh produce when using online shopping programs.

They also were less likely to purchase sweets like candies either, likely because they were not enticed by the goods like they are in a physical store where they are placed in areas that tempt the consumer into making the purchase.

Online grocery shopping programs are growing in America – for both SNAP recipients and general consumers –  with popular apps like Uber Eats and Doordash even adding it to their offerings in recent years to capture the market.

A study finds that people shopping for groceries through a delivery series are less likely to order fruit and vegetables because they do not make healthy decisions at the grocery store (file photo)

In 2019, SNAP benefits became usable on some online grocery delivery platforms. Usage was extended even further in 2020 in order to allow for recipients to safely social distance during the pandemic.

‘The expansion of the SNAP online policy during the pandemic was important to give equal opportunity to low-income populations to access groceries,’ says Assistant Professor Angela Trude, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

The research team, who published their findings last month in Appetite, in  first surveyed 310 families on the government benefit program in Maryland.

They found that 57 percent of the shoppers had used an online shopping service in the past, and they felt positive about their experiences for the most part. 

When the grocery store choices were reported by families, researchers found they were 70 percent less likely to buy fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood when shopping online compared to when they shopped in person. 

In interviews, the shoppers reported that they feared that the courier choosing which fruits, or what pack of meat to buy, would not make the right choice.

Participants were also 49 percent less likely to purchase sweets like candy, cookies and cake as well.

They reported that it was easier to resist temptations virtually, and that there was no child present pressuring them into making improper choices.

Grocery stores, among many others, are also set up in ways to entice people into making poor dietary choices, with some experts noting that having candy next to the check out counter – a staple in the U.S. – retailers are taking advantage of ‘decision fatigue’.

After a person has just spent an entire grocery trip choosing what to buy, which brand to choose and comparing prices, they may be mentally taxed enough to make a poor choice right at the end of their trip.

This phenomena does not exist when shopping virtually for the most part, because checking out does not require someone to walk by a counter of unhealthy foods.

Researchers say that consumers need to be educated in ways that help them make better decisions at the grocery store

Researchers say that consumers need to be educated in ways that help them make better decisions at the grocery store

Some delivery platforms are using decision fatigue to their advantage, though, having a pop-up menu show a customer sweet and savory options just before they go to the cart and check out.

‘Online grocery shopping is a promising tool to reduce issues of food access, but our study shows that this might be leading to reduced purchases of healthy foods, driven in part by uncertainty and distrust in how these products are selected,’ said Trude.

Teaching Americans how to make healthier choices at the grocery store could be to fixing the nation’s current obesity crisis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 40 percent of Americans are obese, and 70 percent are overweight.

Another study performed earlier this year by Attest found that only nine percent of Americans can make the optimal decisions at the grocery store.