Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons
UPDATE: On the same day as this post was written, Walmart Announced Plan to Promote Healthy Foods
An interesting thing happens when that shiny new Walmart supercenter comes to town: people get fatter. Charles Courtemanche, assistant professor of economics at the University of North Carolina, followed the spread of Walmarts across the country, and the spread in girth of citizens nearby. The 2009 research found that "An additional Supercenter per 100,000 residents increases average BMI (body mass index) by 0.25 units and the obesity rate by 2.4 percentage points."
from the study, download here
Courtemanche and associate Art Carden take a leap and blame Walmart for a big part of the obesity crisis in America:
These results imply that the proliferation of Walmart Supercenters explains 11% of the rise in obesity since the late 1980s, but the resulting increase in medical expenditures offsets only a small portion of consumers' savings from shopping at Supercenters.
Courtemanche is quoted in the National Post:
I think the most obvious story is that Walmart lowers the price of foods and a lot of the foods it has big price advantages on are the processed, inner-aisle types of food that aren't that good for you.
And the thing is, you don't even have to shop there, because of what Charles Fishman called "The Wal-Mart Effect":
It's not just about Walmart underselling the competitor. It's about the competitors cutting their prices in response to competition from Walmart. Someone might never step foot in a Walmart but they still might pay less for their food.
People also tend to drive further and buy more at once when they shop at Walmart for food instead of the local grocery. More food in the double-wide fridge probably means more snacking and over-eating. But of course, don't blame Walmart; as Courtemanche says:
"We don't want people to look at this and immediately say Walmart is evil. We want people to realize this is one of many things that are going on, and maybe some are good and some are bad,"he said. "Certainly our results should not be taken as, 'Ban all Walmarts.' It's part of a very broad debate."
He's right. It is part of a debate about urban design, planning, farm subsidies, road subsidies and all those things that make Walmart and other superstores work.
More in the National Post
More on What Makes You Fat:
Cars Make You Fat
Eating At Your Desk Makes You Fat
Cul de Sacs and 11 Other Unexpected Things That Are Making You Fat
Urban Planners Make You Fat
Michael Pollan: The Government Makes You Fat
No, This Is Why You're Fat!
The Recession Makes You Fat
US Cities Make You Fat
Gender Bender Chemicals Make You Fat
Cheap Gas Makes You Fat