Grocery shopping can be a daunting task if one follows advice of not buying anything at eye level, studying the label, and avoiding center isles and goods at the perimeter. Evidence has shown that Americans buy most of their food in grocery stores and that their shopping habits are predictive in terms of their fruit, vegetable and sugared soft drink consumption.

Numerous grocery stores have decided to become pro-active in helping to assist their consumers to choose healthy foods, such as displaying the food's nutritional score on the shelf's price label. The May/June 2012 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior asked consumers in a recent study: "Who knows how to use these grocery store shelf signs?"

Researchers from Arizona State University and University of Arizona College of Medicine - Phoenix decided to investigate. They recruited 153 shoppers at a grocery chain and split them into two groups, i.e. the control group, who received no shopping information other than the usual information of 600 shelf signs that were located below the food items of the particular grocery chain provided. The shelf signs identified food items that according to both the Food and Drug Administration labeling regulations and the American Heart Association Guidelines were considered as ''healthier option,'' ''low sodium'', ''calcium rich'', ''heart healthy'' or an ''immune booster''.

Those in the intervention group received a less than 10-minute long counseling session from a nutrition educator, who provided the participants with an overview on how to read nutrition labels and instructions on how to use the 5 nutrition shelf signs that emphasize foods included in the Heart Healthy and Immune Booster categories. Heart healthy foods included shopping for nonfat and low-fat dairy products, leaner beef and pork, vegetable oil, and other sources of healthy fats, whilst Immune Booster shopping meant increasing fruits and vegetables, in particular dark-green, orange, red, and yellow colors.

Once the participants finished their grocery shopping, the researchers evaluated their purchases in terms of content of total fats, saturated fats, trans fats, fruit, vegetables, and dark green and bright-yellow vegetables.

They discovered that the intervention group purchased more healthy foods like fruit and green and yellow vegetables.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Brandy-Joe Milliron, declared:

"Previous point of purchase supermarket interventions, price discounts, advertisements, coupons, recipe fliers, store signage, and food demonstrations have had modest effects on food purchasing patterns. Therefore, we sought to test the effect of a point of purchase intervention with in-person counseling from a nutrition educator on food purchasing patterns. Food purchasing patterns are predictive of actual dietary intake, and even the modest effects from our study could translate into meaningful health benefits if sustained long term."

Principal researcher Dr. Bradley M. Appelhans, added:

"The ubiquity of inexpensive, palatable, energy-dense food is considered a primary contributor to the obesity epidemic, and a number of obesity-reducing modifications to the obesity-promoting environment have been proposed. Interventions aimed at promoting more healthful food purchasing patterns represent a promising approach to reducing obesity but have been relatively understudied."

The authors conclude:

"The bottom line, encouraging the feasibility of supermarket interventions, such as that in our study, assists shoppers in choosing healthful options."

Written By Petra Rattue