You Might Want to Close Your Eyes the Next Time You're in a Checkout Line

Turns out, we can't resist those displays. The average American woman eats more than 14,300 calories per year in impulse purchases.

Beware the checkout line if you're counting calories (Photo: Noel Hendrickson/Getty Images)
Jason Best is a regular contributor to TakePart who has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

What with a full two-thirds of the country now considered overweight or obese, it seems every day we get another reason why Americans just keep getting heavier.

And frankly, coming up with all those reasons is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel. America has probably come as close as any civilization in history to creating a real-world Candy Land. To wit, a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine that fingers “impulse buys” as yet another in the litany of American diet busters.

That’s right: We’re talking about the veritable wall of tasty treats that greets you just about anytime you try to pay for just about anything (fyi, you can even snag a king-sized Snickers as you’re buying spackling paste at Home Depot ... don't ask us how we know).

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Do those little pick-me-ups matter? As ABC News reports, 9 out of 10 shoppers report making such impulse purchases (leading us to ask who, exactly, is in that 10 percent who's never tossed a last-minute Coke on the conveyor belt).

But what really stopped us in our tracks were the numbers from IHL, a “retail analyst group.” Are you ready? The average American woman eats more than 14,300 calories per year in impulse purchases, and for men it’s almost double: 28,350 calories. That roughly translates into 4–8 excess pounds we could lose (theoretically) by just saying no to that sudden urge to splurge.

Of course, marketers have made that as difficult as possible. As Dr. Deborah A. Cohen at Rand Health points out, there’s a reason stores prominently display impulse items at the end of your shopping trip: your brain is already fried from making a bunch of decisions about what to buy, so your impulse control is weaker.

It gets creepier than that, though. As ABC reports: “Additionally, marketers pretest promotional displays to make them influential and hard to resist. They frequently use sophisticated eye-tracking systems to make sure that customers cannot ignore them. People lack the capacity to control their eye gaze fully, and what they look at the longest is the strongest predictor of what they will buy.”

Ohhh …all those pretty colors …

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