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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Shoppers who can't resist a soda as they buy some gas or candy from the drug store should watch those extra calories, according to a U.S. study that found the widespread availability of snacks could be fuelling obesity.
A U.S. survey found that 41 percent of 1,082 non-food retail stores in 19. U.S. cities also sold candy, soft drinks, chips and other snacks with these foods usually placed at check-out counters "within arm's reach" of impulsive buyers.
About 95 percent of drug stores and gas stations sold snack foods as did two-thirds of general merchandise stores, hardware and garden stores and automobile repair shops.
Even 39 percent of salons, 29 percent of rental businesses and book stories and 16 percent of clothing and accessory retailers sold snacks.
But researchers from the Tulane University School of Public Health in New Orleans said studies showed people snacking on the run did not typically compensate by eating less at meals.
"This suggests that calories consumed through impulse purchases of snack foods will increase total daily (calorie) intake and thus contribute to weight gain," researcher Thomas Farley and his colleagues wrote in a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
The researchers said this "ubiquity" of snack foods may tempt many people into buying calories that they otherwise would not and over time, those calories could add up to extra pounds.
They estimated that if a person sees snack foods at retail stores twice per week, and ends up buying a typical product only 10 percent of the time, that would mean an extra 2,600 calories in a year.
That, in turn, could translate to close to a pound of weight gain per year.
The researchers noted that traditional food establishments were required to have a permit to sell food but that was not the case for stores selling only prepackaged foods that were not seen as hazardous as they do not present a risk of foodborne illness.
However the researchers said the number of deaths a year attributed to obesity far outnumber deaths from foodborne pathogens "so it may be justified to revisit the definition of potentially hazardous and to include (calorie)-dense snack foods."
Reporting by Reuters Health, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith