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Want to lose weight? Slimmer shoppers use grocery lists

It turns out list-making isn’t just for Santa. Though most people know that shopping for and cooking your own food is significantly healthier than ordering prepared means, it’s also a fact that there are still a good many overweight folks to be found wandering the local mega-mart’s aisles. According to a study by researchers from RAND Health, it’s not enough to shop for your own sustenance – how you shop matters, too: People who make grocery lists routinely made better food choices and had lower body weights.

“We don’t know whether people who are healthier pay more attention to what they eat and pay more attention to their weight and are also people who do more planning, or if people who do more planning are more able to avoid impulse purchases and the less healthy options presented to them at the supermarket,” lead study author Tamara Dubowitz told the Associated Press.

The researchers surveyed over 1,300 people (most of whom were overweight or obese) in two low-income neighborhoods. 80% of those surveyed reported incomes of under $20,000 per year, and just about one third were employed. Under a third said they always shopped with a grocery list, while 17% did so “often” and 26% did so “occasionally.” After calculating participants’ body mass index (BMI), they found that shopping with a grocery list equated to a BMI about one point lower than shopping without one.

The researchers are quick to point out that shopping lists don’t cause people to be slimmer, only that there’s a link. People who make shopping lists are likely already more conscious of what they’re eating and intend to make healthier choices. Shopping lists also dissuade people from making “impulse buys” based on hunger, lack of willpower or slick store marketing. The two neighborhoods were located in what’s known as “food deserts,” or areas with limited access to healthy food options. Poverty and lack of quality stores are two leading factors in obesity, the researchers said.

It’s well known that grocery stores are designed to best suit the owner rather than the consumer. Complementary food items are often placed far apart, causing shoppers to have to traverse the store for essentials, thereby exposing them to more unhealthy, high-margin items. Processed foods also often get prime, eye-level shelf space, owing to favorable distribution deals between the store and manufacturers. In order to make a list more effective, it’s important to divide items by their location in the store, rather than by food category. The ideal design would get the shopper out of the store having seen as little of it as possible.

More than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, putting them at increased risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.