A shopping list could be a simple, effective way of shopping for healthier foods, according to a new study.

Research showed that people who regularly use a shopping list had healthier weights, on average, than those who purchased food without a plan. The effect is even apparent in regions where there are significant challenges to eating well.

Researchers collected raw data for their investigation by traveling door-to-door in poorer areas of Pittsburgh, considered to be a food desert, where residents had little access to healthy food choices. Most residents there are African-American and have household incomes under $20,000. Investigators surveyed over 1,300 people about their diet as well as their height and weight.

In the polling, 26 percent of people reported they never used a list while shopping, while nearly one-third said they always used one. About 17 percent of people stated they occasionally used such a list to assist them while shopping for food.

People who regularly used grocery lists were found to have the lowest body weights of the three groups, an average of five pounds under those who improvised while selecting food products.

"It makes sense that if you have a list it is a good tool to counteract some of the other influences that are shouting at us at the store, encouraging us to not necessarily engage with healthy food options," Tamara Dubowitz of the Rand Corp., lead author of a paper announcing the results of the study, said.

A previous study of food stores in California showed 71 percent had exterior advertising encouraging people to buy unhealthy foods, while just 12.2 percent displayed similar ads for healthy food choices.

The reason grocery lists correlate with lower weights is uncertain. It is possible that people who use shopping lists tend to have conscientious personalities, which reflect in their food choices. It is also important to realize that this study, conducted in an economically disadvantaged area, does not necessarily mean the same effect would be seen in more affluent populations. However, there is no reason to believe that more affluent people are less likely to be swayed by advertising than those living on smaller incomes.

Earlier research showed people living in lower-income areas are more prone than the general population to health complications resulting from obesity. This new study could reveal a simple way that residents in these regions could make smarter food choices in an effort to reduce chances of obesity.

The study of how shopping lists can help promote healthier eating was profiled in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Photo: Meg Stewart | Flickr

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