Growth of big box retailers and restaurants links to American obesity pandemic

Growth of big box retailers and restaurants linked to American obesity pandemic

A health economist has further cemented the link between changing lifestyle and the ongoing obesity pandemic in the United States. This time, however, the growth of big box retailers and restaurants appeared to have contributed significantly to sharp rise in obesity rates.

According to Charles Courtemanche, a health economist and assistant professor in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University, Americans now reside near an abundance of cheap and readily available food from a variety of business establishments.

Big box retailers such as Costco and Walmart and fast food restaurants such as McDonalds and other small but expanding players are changing the eating habits of Americans, thus leading to the American obesity pandemic.

“People are doing a lot of eating,” said Courtemanche. “But as economists, we know people’s preferences don’t change overnight, so the steady rise since 1980 must involve their incentives to eat.”

To establish the correlation between the growth of big box retailers and American obesity pandemic, Courtemanche together with his colleagues developed a comprehensive economic model of body weight and 27 state-level variables. These variables include general economic conditions such as unemployment and income, labor supply, money costs and time costs associated with calorie intake, physical activity, smoking, gasoline prices, and fitness centers.

From the model, Courtemanche found out that the changes in variables that have direct impact on calorie intake collectively lead to a 37% rice in the body mass index rates and 43% rise in obesity. Furthermore, the pervasiveness of and proximity to supercenters, warehouse clubs and restaurants are responsible for most of these gains in BMI and obesity rates.

Fitness centers and rising gas prices were found to work against the rise in BMI.

However, the researchers noted that the aforementioned phenomenon is applicable to everyone. Courtemanche said their research suggests that the greatest rise in weight is concentrated in people who are already at risk for obesity.

The research also found out that the dwindling numbers of blue-collar workers are also contributing to the American obesity pandemic.

“The best explanation for the difference between these workers, outside of physical movement, is time flexibility,” Courtemanche said. “White-collar workers have the flexibility to graze all day at their desks, and they can take lunch out. It all points to caloric intake.”

Further details of the study are contained in the article “Can Changing Economic Factors Explain the Rise in Obesity” published in the National Bureau of Economic Research. Note that this research relates to another research of Courtemanche that explores how the level of patience of an individual, also known as time preference, predicts how susceptible he or she is to weight gain.