1 Programa de Pós-Graduação em Nutrição em Saúde Pública, Faculdade de Saúde Pública, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil; 2 Departamento de Medicina Preventiva, Faculdade de Medicina, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil.
Introduction: The emergence of a food system that contributes to the broadened availability of ultra-processed foods is associated with the onset of obesity and chronic diseases. Supermarkets serve as tools for transnational companies to offer consumers a wide variety of ultra-processed foods. Objective: To evaluate the impact of supermarkets on the availability of ultra-processed foods consumed in Brazil. Methodology: Data obtained from the 2008-2009 Household Budget Survey involving a probabilistic sample of 55,970 Brazilian households, have been analyzed. The quantity of acquired foods was converted into calories using food composition tables. The food items were divided according to the extent and purpose of their industrial processing. Contributions from different food purchasing sites were analyzed according to the regional and socioeconomic strata of the Brazilian population. Results: All the 262 distinct food purchasing sites reported were grouped into ten categories, according to the physical characteristics and nature of the products available. The foods were categorized into four groups (natural or minimally processed foods, culinary ingredients, processed foods, and ultra-processed foods). Supermarkets contributed to 59% of the acquisition of foods, and were also found to be the main source of purchase in three food groups. Additionally, 64% of the calories of ultra-processed foods available for consumption in households came from supermarkets. The greatest number of ultra-processed food purchases was in urban regions in the country. These purchases were made mainly by those who were in the higher income quintile. Conclusion: The fact that supermarkets greatly contribute to the acquisition of ultra-processed foods shows how such stores can likely influence the population’s dietary habits. Considering that supermarkets are environments which stimulate the consumption of ultra-processed foods, the results of this study show that it is necessary to design policies encouraging healthy dietary habits in these types of food purchasing sites.