Why candy racks need to disappear from the supermarket checkout

checkout line candy
CC BY 2.0 Jeff Adair

Since having children, I have come to resent the insidious nature of sugar and how it worms its way into our lives at the most inconvenient times. Whether it’s a friendly storeowner offering a lollipop to my boys right before lunch, or candy canes handed out around Christmas, or the free ice cream that accompanies kids’ meals in restaurants, or gigantic frozen popsicles after soccer practice in the summer, it just seems that we can’t escape the sugar deluge.

The biggest point of contention in my family, though, is the candy rack at the grocery store checkout. My kids are usually pretty good, since they understand it’s off-limits, but on days when they’re tired or hungry, that brief six-foot journey between the conveyor belt and the candy bar display has been known to deteriorate into a nightmare. And understandably so – it’s hard for any child to resist the brightly colored, shiny wrappers that are the perfect size for small hands to grab, set up at face level.

I am prepared to deal with tantrums, if need be, but I can’t help but wonder, “Why is the candy rack even there in the first place?” I know it’s all about money, since the candy rack is the most profitable place in a supermarket. But I wish people would think about the implications of setting up gigantic sugar displays in nearly every checkout throughout the country.

It's a well-known fact that rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes are at an all-time high in North America. Parents, teachers, and legislators constantly talk about revamping school cafeterias, removing vending machines, and improving nutritional education, and yet something as basic as the candy rack continues to prevail. Are we perversely trying to build up kids’ self-resistance by exposing them to candy while expecting them to withstand its allure? Imagine how inconsiderate it would be to line the walls of an AA meeting with bottles of booze.

I’m not suggesting we banish sugar entirely from the eyes of children. That would be too Prohibition Era-esque for my liking. Kids do need to learn to make smart choices about food when faced with tantalizing options. Nor am I against eating sugar in small doses; I love to bake. But I do think it’s time people started paying closer attention to how sugar affects us. It is an addictive substance, which causes dopamine levels to surge in the brain:

“Too much sugar can steer the brain into overdrive. That kickstarts a series of ‘unfortunate events’ – loss of control, cravings, and increased tolerance to sugar. All of those effects can be physically and psychologically taxing over time, leading to weight gain and dependence.”

As a parent who has enough to deal with on a daily basis while trying to raise well-behaved, non-picky, and pleasant children, I’d welcome a checkout aisle lined with dried fruit and nuts, or, better yet, nothing at all. Positive reinforcement of good food choices will do more good than never-ending opportunities for derailment.

Why candy racks need to disappear from the supermarket checkout
If we're serious about educating kids about good nutrition, then why do we keep shoving it in their faces?

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