Do Walmart Supercenters make you fat (hint – a bit!)

From Supersizing supercenters? The impact of Walmart Supercenters on body mass index and obesity, by Charles Courtemanche and Art Carden, Journal of Urban Economics 69 (2011) 165–181

Researchers have linked the rise in obesity to technological progress reducing the opportunity cost of food consumption and increasing the opportunity cost of physical activity. We examine this hypothesis in the context of Walmart Supercenters, whose advancements in retail logistics have translated to sub- stantial reductions in the prices of food and other consumer goods. Using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System matched with Walmart Supercenter entry dates and locations, we examine the effects of Supercenters on body mass index (BMI) and obesity. We account for the endogeneity of Walmart Supercenter locations with an instrumental variables approach that exploits the unique geo- graphical pattern of Supercenter expansion around Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. An additional Supercenter per 100,000 residents increases average BMI by 0.24 units and the obesity rate by 2.3% points. These results imply that the proliferation of Walmart Supercenters explains 10.5% 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.

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11 Responses to Do Walmart Supercenters make you fat (hint – a bit!)

  1. john walker says:

    Do Wallmart store locations map to relative poverty?

  2. wilful says:

    the resulting increase in medical expenditures offsets only a small portion of consumers’ savings from shopping at Supercenters.

    If I’m reading that correctly, that is something only an economist could say. Spending money on saving your own health (for diabetes or heart disease or whatever) does not equate to having to spend a bit less on your weekly shopping bill!There’s a lot more to life than your bank balance. Would the calculation include grieving or worried family, for example?

    Or even the additional social cost of being obese.

  3. Patrick says:

    If I’m reading it correctly, people are saving more from walmart than the increased medical cost, which means that walmart must be some damn fine savings indeed.

    Also if I’m reading it correctly walmart supercenters tend to open in places where people tend to become obese…news of the minute, at least?

  4. wizofaus says:

    I’d also be willing to be bet that relatively few customers *are* actually saving up money that would then be free later on to cover increased medical costs due to poorer health. But as wilful said, even for such customers, I don’t see how anybody could judge that to be a desirable outcome.

  5. I worked in public health nutrtion. Eating isn’t the problem it’s transport. Weight is inversley proportional to public transport utilisation. If you go to a big box store chances are you drove there. If you go to your local grocer there’s and increased probablility that you walked there. Correlation doesn’t prove causation!!

  6. Mel says:

    *Shakes head*

    If you interrogate the data sufficiently it will confess to anything.

  7. john walker says:

    Could wallmart have a sort of ‘algorithm’ for choosing the best/ Biggest localities for its stores?

  8. conrad says:

    “If you interrogate the data sufficiently it will confess to anything.”

    Speaking about that, there should be an ideal case for falsifying some of the above claims — given that food seems to have gotten much more expensive just about everwhere, we should find that populations start losing weight. Here’s my bet: We won’t, excluding countries where food is a big proportion of people’s income.

  9. john walker says:

    According to a manufacturer friend, what has happened is , as the costs of ‘real food’ have risen, the costs of manufactured food has not risen nearly as much .
    What often happens is -roughly speaking- 100gm of say fish is manufactured into a mixture of 300 gms of vegetable thickener, gums, cheap fats(such as palm oil), flavorings and cheap sugars and then sold as a ready prepared fish ‘meal’ that is much affordable than 400gms of fish would be.

    Back in the 80s I had a part time job working with young long term unemployed in the sw of Sydney , even then virtually none of them could do even basic cooking( of the chop 3+ veg kind) and most came from families where the parents had never cooked either.

  10. Mel says:

    Well, yes, and following on from Conrad, Ben and John W, I think we can surmise that the gritty suburbs than contain more than their fair share of Walmarts also contain more than their fair share of prostitution rackets.

    Indeed, after a little googling and statistical manipulation I can now demonstrate a statistically significant link between prostitution and palm oil consumption.

  11. john walker says:

    Mel Hang on mate by that reckoning , Fyshwick should be the fattest(slippery) place in Australia!

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