Americans Cutting Back on Prepackaged Sweet Baked Goods

Purchases of grain based desserts such as pies, cakes and cookies dropped

(RxWiki News) Prepackaged baked desserts are filling shelves but not shopping carts.

Americans are buying fewer foods such as pies, cakes, cookies, doughnuts and pastries, according to a new study released by the University of North Carolina.

These so-called ready-to-eat grain-based desserts (RTE GBDs) add significant calories, sugar and saturated fat to the American table. They may also contribute to the obesity epidemic.

Scientists and health care professionals recognize that Americans consume too many empty calories and have been encouraging lower consumption of saturated fat and sugar.

The research team noted their findings highlight an opportunity for food manufacturers and public health officials to collaborate in producing healthier versions of these ready-to-eat desserts.

"The results of this study indicated that larger wide-scale efforts are needed among public health officials and all manufacturers of RTE GBDs to shift consumer purchases towards products with lower energy, sugar, and saturated fat content,” lead author Dr. Kevin C. Mathias said in a press statement.

"The results from this analysis show that the new RTE GBD products released in 2012 did not have lower energy, sugar, or saturated fat densities than the products already existing on the market," Dr. Mathias said.

Dr. Mathias and his team designed their study to monitor efforts to improve dietary quality in the U.S. Their study focused on two angles: whether the nutritional content of RTE GBDs had improved between 2005 and 2012, and whether Americans purchased fewer of these products.

These researchers also examined whether Americans shifted their purchases to RTE GBDs with fewer calories and less sugar or saturated fat.

Making these dessert products healthier can be complex, as it requires duplicating the taste, appearance and texture of the old product. Dr. Mathias and team noted that reformulating products can backfire: If Americans perceive that the reformulated RTE GBDs are healthier, they may eat more of them.

Dr. Mathias and his team found few changes in the overall nutritional content of RTE GBDs from 2005 to 2012. Even new products had the same problems of high calories, sugar and saturated fats.

The researchers did find, however, that purchases of RTE GBDs dropped by 24 percent from 2005 to 2012.

The study included 40,102 households in 2005 and 47,259 households in 2012. Each household provided about four-and-a-half years’ worth of data. Some households that had very low food purchases were excluded.

Households with multiple adults and no children were the single largest group studied, followed by households with children between the ages of two and 11.

Data on purchases came from the Nielsen Homescan survey, which collects information on household purchases over a period of time. Each family was given a bar code scanner, which downloaded nutritional information into the research database.

The researchers included products such as cakes, cookies, pies, pastries, sweet strudels, doughnuts, granola/yogurt bars, and graham crackers in the study. They did not include toaster pastries and breakfast bars, dry mixed or frozen/refrigerated products. Items baked on site at restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores were also excluded.

Although overall purchases of RTE GBDs dropped, the researchers noted Americans were still buying products high in saturated fat. Dr. Mathias’ team noted that their study covered the period of the recession, which could also have affected consumer purchasing choices.

The study was published Dec. 22 in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The study was supported by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Carolina Population Center.

No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
December 22, 2014