Per one study on food deserts, when compared to supermarkets, small grocery stores devote about three times as much shelf space to soda, chips, and candy as to fruits and vegetables. The ratio in convenience stores is about thirty to one. Two public health thought leaders, Thomas Farley and Russell Sykes, have written a provocative piece for the New York Times. In it, they explore bold ideas that consider how the nation could improve SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). With one in seven Americans buying food with SNAP benefits – and  Congress in the process of debating the merits of the program – the piece is timely.

Dr. Thomas Farley (@DrTomFarley) and Russell Sykes write this:

By one estimate, at least $1.7 billion a year in SNAP benefits is spent on sugary drinks alone — more than the entire budget at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the prevention of obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer. But it is hard to blame families for using SNAP benefits to buy unhealthy food, when their options are mostly junk.

The authors suggest several things, including having stores allocate shelf space to influence what consumers buy on impulse, something they refer to in the piece as the “bump into” effect.

This “bump into” effect is especially strong for healthy food. Two different studies found that doubling the length of shelf space for fruits and vegetables increased sales by 30 to 60 percent. Americans on average consume only about half of the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, and studies suggest that a 50 percent increase in consumption would lead to a 15 percent decrease in heart disease.

A must-read.