Can supermarkets influence the health of their consumers? If so, should retailers be graded - a kind of sustainability standard for customer health - for their efforts?

The world does need help. It is not as if the consumer’s heralded freedom to choose has resulted in healthy outcomes.

A study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and published in The Lancet reported more discouraging news about obesity around the world. In 2010, overweight and obesity were estimated to cause 3.4 million deaths, 3.9% of years of life lost and 3.8% of disability adjusted life years. Worldwide, the study found that proportion of adults with a Body Mass Index of 25 kig/m2 or greater increased from 28.8% in 1980 to 36.9% in 2013. The rate of obesity in developing countries for children and adolescents rose from 8.1% in 1980 to 12.9% in 2013. For adults, the prevalence of obesity exceeded 50% of the men in Tonga, and women in Kuwait —13·9) in girls. In adults, estimated prevalence of obesity exceeded 50% in men in Tonga and in women in Kuwait, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Libya, Qatar, Tonga, and Samoa. A somber warning: “Not only is obesity increasing, but no national success stories have been reported in the past 33 years. Urgent global action and leadership is needed to help countries to more effectively intervene.”

 And we are not only fat, we are weak too. A study published in Australia indicated that about 25% of parents in that country give up to rants by their children who demand a product every three minutes during shopping trips. Before you bash Aussie parents, the study said that parents in the U.S. give in to “pester power” even more easily than in Australia. A whopping 97% of U.S. parents cave to their kids requests. In Australia, children asked for something to be put in their parents’ “trolley” once every three minutes, compared to once every minute in the U.S. Marketers use tactics such as getting the eyes of characters on packaging to look down at kids, using bright lights and other crafty tactics.

Should food retailers be rated by their efforts to reduce obesity? Why the heck not? If we are judging growers by how much water they use, why not grade retailers on the way they merchandise both healthy and unhealthy food? I’m not sure who would put such an index together, but we have a retail candidate at hand who surely would get a superior score.

Noting the statistic that 68% of parents are pestered by their kids for candy or chocolate at checkout, discount grocery Lidl has rolled out a Healthy Checkouts Initiative. Following a successful trial in 2013, the chain said it will remove sweets and chocolates from all checkouts in Lidl’s 600 stores, to be replaced by “more nutritious options such as dried fruits and nuts, seeds, fresh fruit and fruit juices."

Score, Lidl!