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Testing the effects of food product placement on customers’ visual attention and intended product purchases: a randomised trial in a virtual supermarket setting (Phase II)

Principal Investigators: Janis Baird and Christina Vogel, Professor of Public Health and Epidemiology and Principal Research Fellow in Public Health Nutrition respectively, MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre, University of Southampton

Team: Dr Sarah Crozier, Senior Statistician, MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre, University of Southampton

Dr Hayward Godwin, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Southampton

Professor Marcus Munafo and Dr Olivia Maynard, Bristol University

Ravita Taheem, Southampton City Council, Sure Start Children’s Centres

Started: 1st March 2022

Ends: 30th September 2024


Poor diet is linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Most adults in England consume too much salt, saturated fat and free sugar, and do not eat the recommended five daily portions of fruit and vegetables. People with lower education and income levels are more likely to have poor diet and to experience health problems as a result. Women of childbearing age are primarily responsible for domestic food tasks such as shopping and cooking, and their diets are closely linked to those of their children. Most families buy their food from supermarkets and their food choices can be influenced by placement of items in-store and by promotions.


Our research

We want to find out how the placement and packaging of healthy and unhealthy foods influence the foods that women choose to buy. We will do this by creating a ‘virtual’ supermarket layout that participants will interact with on a computer screen. We will recruit women attending Sure Start Children’s Centres in Hampshire and those whose children attend early years settings. Hampshire is a county within the Wessex region with some relatively deprived areas. We will choose centres and early years settings located in areas of higher deprivation. Local data suggests that 70% of families with young children are engaged with the centres.


Women using the virtual supermarket will be shown images of healthy and unhealthy foods and non-food items that are placed in noticeable locations in the supermarket like checkouts. We will measure the specific aspects of the images women look at using experimental techniques such as eye tracking, which records their gaze point and gaze duration. The eye tracker is positioned close to the computer screen allowing it to record where women look. We will then ask women to tell us the products that they saw for sale, the name of the products they considered purchasing, and aspects of the supermarket that took their interest, and why. Our findings will tell us how people respond to the placement and packaging of different types of food products and whether these reponses differ if families are poorer or more wealthy. These findings help us to design ways to layout supermarkets to help all families eat more healthy foods. 


Our research will begin in March 2022 and end in late 2022. We will share the findings from our study with local families attending Sure Start Children’s Centres and early years settings. We will inform local and national government employees about our findings which could help to refine current government policies to address childhood obesity. 

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