The nutritional quality of packaged food at Walmart has improved since 2000, according to a new study by UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health researchers. That should be good news, given that Walmart and other major retail chains are the biggest sellers of foods purchased and eaten by U.S. consumers.
The study, led by Dr. Lindsey Smith Taillie, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health alumna and research assistant professor of nutrition at the School, was published online October 21 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Dr. Taillie is also a fellow at UNC’s Carolina Population Center.
Using data collected from the Nielsen Homescan and Nutrition Facts Panel on more than 164,000 shoppers, Dr. Taillie and colleagues examined changes in nutrient quality and key food groups purchased at Walmart and other food retail chains, such as grocery stores, supermarkets and supercenters, between 2000 and 2013. They also considered whether these changes differed for low-income or minority households.
The study determined that, during this period, foods sold at Walmart declined in calories (73 fewer per 100 grams), in sugar (8 grams fewer per 100 grams) and in sodium (33 mg. less, per 100 grams). There also was a decrease in households’ percentage of volume purchased from sweets (down, 11 percent), grain-based desserts (down 2 percent) and savory snacks (down 3 percent), and increases in purchases of fruits (up, 3 percent) and vegetables (up, 1 percent).
Other food retail chains had more favorable nutritional profiles than did Walmart in 2000, but they demonstrated smaller improvements over time. By the end of 2013, Walmart and other food retail chains were very similar with regard to the nutritional profile of purchases made there.
The study also showed that low-income households did not buy disproportionately fewer healthy foods at Walmart, although they did buy less healthy food at other food retail chains. Black households had the worst nutritional profile of purchases at Walmart and at other food retail chains, and this persisted over time.