Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Impulse Buying for Safety

One of the best perspective pieces to come appear in a long time was published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine (367;15:1381-83, 2012). Authored by Deborah A. Cohen, MD, MPH and Susan H. Babey, PhD and titled “Candy at the Cash Register – A Risk Factor for Obesity and Chronic Disease,” it explains the fact that food-related purchase decisions are not all consciously and deliberately made.

In fact, people purchase in grocery stores in predetermined patterns, which guides the placement of foods, usually unhealthy (e.g., sugar-laden beverages, “junk food,” candy bars, and the like) in prominent positions (such as near the cash register) to take advantage of impulse buying. One needs to hunt through the store for healthy foods, which are usually not given favorable locations, such as the ends of aisles near the front of the store. 

When I was reading this article, I thought of how outdoor retailers really don’t do much to promote health and safety. The first aid kits, medical supplies, and guides (if there are any) are usually tucked away in a corner. Are the foods they carry really nutritious? Have all the products been safety tested? Who reviewed the literature on effectiveness of water filters? How many old-fashioned, ineffective snakebite kits are on the shelves? 

It might be a stretch, but I’d like to see the big retailers (they know who they are) slot the most effective and important safety items (e.g., helmets, sunscreen, first aid supplies, emergency shelters, first aid kits) out front in a bold location, and see how that affects sales. I understand that safety is a personal decision, but why not make it more important? If someone came into the store to buy a pair of skis, they’ll still do it. But if they remember to purchase a helmet because they were encouraged, it will likely be a very good thing.

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Tags: General Interest

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.