Feds Spend $429,220 Tracking Eye Movements of Latinos at Grocery Stores to Fight Obesity

Study aims to determine how overweight people make decisions on what to buy

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September 27, 2017

The National Institutes of Health is spending over $400,000 on a study tracking the eye movements of Latinos and their children at grocery stores in a bid to fight obesity.

The study at San Diego State University is using "eye-tracking technology" to determine how overweight people make their decisions on what to buy at the grocery. Researchers hope they can identify strategies for changing groceries to nudge people into choosing options they consider healthier.

"This two-year, mixed-methods study will use eye-tracking technology to identify aspects of the in-store environment that cue parents' and children's purchase requests," according to the grant for the project.

The study is examining how grocery stores display products on shelves, as well as how parents interact with their children when shopping.

Parents and children "will each wear eye-tracking glasses during a single grocery shopping trip that capture visual and audio data for the entire shopping trip from both the parent's and the child's perspectives."

"Parent interviews will capture household food shopping behavior, parenting behaviors, and relevant cultural and economic factors," the grant continues. "Our approach is innovative in its focus on identifying methods for intervening on in-store and parent-child factors that influence parents' and children's purchase requests, parenting behaviors, and parents' grocery shopping decision-making and purchasing behavior."

The researchers chose Latinos as the focus for the study because they are "disproportionately affected by overweight and obesity," shop "more frequently than the general population," and are "more likely to shop with children."

The project has received $429,220 from taxpayers since it began last year. Research will continue through 2018.

The goal of the study is to find ways to change how parents shop with their kids, and to change the layouts of Latino grocery stores so that individuals make healthier choices.

"The modifiability of in-store and parent-child factors makes them excellent intervention targets, and examining their influence on grocery purchasing behavior is innovative and significant," the grant states. "Identifying strategies with the potential to promote the adoption and maintenance of healthier food and beverage purchasing is essential for improving health outcomes, including rates of obesity."

Iana Castro, an assistant marketing professor at San Diego State University, is leading the study. A similar study of Latino grocery stores, or tiendas, that has received over $3 million from the NIH, published results earlier this year.

A paper funded by the study, co-written by Castro, found that kids and parents are involved in what is purchased at grocery stores.

"Child involvement in shopping and checkout were associated with spending and purchase outcomes," the paper concluded. "These results indicate that children and parents influence each other during grocery shopping, and children who are more involved have greater influence over purchases."