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Nutritional Composition and Purchasing Patterns of Supermarket Prepared Foods Over Time

  • Joshua Petimar
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to: Joshua Petimar, ScD, Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical School & Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, 401 Park Drive, Suite 401 East, Boston MA 02215.
    Affiliations
    Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical School & Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Boston, Massachusetts

    Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Anna H. Grummon
    Affiliations
    Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical School & Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Boston, Massachusetts

    Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Denise Simon
    Affiliations
    Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical School & Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Boston, Massachusetts
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  • Jason P. Block
    Affiliations
    Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Medical School & Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Boston, Massachusetts
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Published:October 21, 2022DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2022.08.021

      Introduction

      Prepared (ready-to-eat) foods are sold in >90% of U.S. supermarkets, but little is known about their nutritional quality. This study examined trends in purchases of supermarket prepared foods and compared their nutritional profile with that of supermarket packaged foods and restaurant foods.

      Methods

      Nutrition data were obtained on prepared foods sold from 2015 to 2019 in 2 supermarket chains (∼1,200 stores). One chain (193 stores) provided transaction-level sales data from 2015 to 2017. Analyses (conducted in 2021–2022) examined trends in the number of different prepared foods offered by the chains and trends in purchases of calories, total sugar, saturated fat, and sodium from prepared foods. Calorie and nutrient densities (i.e., per 100 g of food) and prevalence of being high in calories or nutrients (on the basis of Chilean standards) were analyzed among supermarket prepared foods, supermarket packaged foods, and restaurant foods consumed in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys 2015–2018.

      Results

      The number of different prepared foods offered at supermarket chains increased from 1,930 in 2015 to 4,113 in 2019. Calories per transaction purchased from supermarket prepared foods increased by 1.0 calories/month (95% CI=0.8, 1.1), a ∼3% annual increase, with similar trends for other nutrients. At supermarkets, >90% of prepared bakery and deli items and 61% of prepared entrees/sides were high in calories or another nutrient of concern, similar to supermarket packaged foods and restaurant foods.

      Conclusions

      Supply of and demand for supermarket prepared foods have grown substantially over time. These trends are concerning given these foods’ overall poor nutritional quality.
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