24 January 2011

When Walmart moves in, waistlines expand according to new study

Last week, just as Walmart announced plans to start offering more healthy and affordable food in its stores, the Montreal Gazette reported on a new study that found people’s waistlines expand when a Walmart Supercenter moves into the neighborhood.

Two economists from the University of North Carolina and Rhodes College tracked data over a ten year period and found that nearby residents averaged a weight gain of 1.5 pounds per person when a new Walmart Supercenter opened nearby. Researchers also found that obesity rates increased by 2.3 percentage points after a Supercenter opened in their area.

The authors of the study, which will be published this March in the Journal of Urban Economics, say the most likely culprit of the expanding waistlines is both the quality and the price of the food sold in the stores.

"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," said Charles Courtemanche , the researcher from the University of North Carolina to the Montreal Gazette.

The study also found that women, low-income families and those in less densely populated areas are most at risk for gaining weight after the arrival of a Walmart Supercenter.

The news of the study coincided with Walmart's announcement – at an event attended by first lady Michelle Obama – of its plans to start offering healthier food choices by lowering the salt and fat content in thousands of its packaged foods, as well as lowering prices on fruits and vegetables.

Those healthy changes won’t come overnight though; it will take Walmart five years to complete its plan. Until then, if a Walmart Supercenter opens near you, maybe your first stop should be the stretch pants aisle.

Robin Lawless | @robmlaw | email
Robin lives in New York City where she loves to check out all the vegan eateries. When she's not writing for TDIV, Robin enjoys taking dance lessons, reading, practicing yoga, hanging out with her cat Maggie, baking vegan treats, and volunteering at Catskill Animal Sanctuary. Feel free to add Robin as a friend on Facebook.

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