Fat Albertsons? UW Study Affirms Economics of Obesity

Courtesy University of Washington Center for Public Health Nutrition, “The Supermarket Gap”

MSNBC has repackaged the results of the Seattle Obesity Study–by the University of Washington’s Adam Drewnowski, who studies relationships between social class and obesity–to make it sound a little sexier, but in a way that also obscures the study’s findings.

MSNBC’s headline is “Pricey grocery stores attract skinniest shoppers,” and the story contains a sidebar that lists grocery stores by customer obesity (a BMI of over 30): just 4 percent of Whole Foods customers are obese, followed by Met Market (8), PCC (12), QFC (17), Fred Meyer (22), Safeway (24), and Albertsons (38).

This is actually the opposite of what study wants to show you, which is that poverty drives the food choices that result in weight gain, not the stores you shop at.

The UW release says simply: “Obesity remains an economic issue.” (And there’s no photo of a slender blonde loading groceries into her SUV, there’s bar graphs.) The study itself is titled, “The Supermarket Gap,” and follows up on earlier research that found that “people who lived near supermarkets consumed more fresh produce and were less likely to be obese.” Fine, everyone thought, we’ll just build more supermarkets in so-called “food deserts” (places served only by convenience stores or fast food).

What UW researchers have found, though, is that most people don’t shop at the nearest supermarket. “Six out of seven people shopped for food outside their immediate neighborhood,” Drewnowski reported. “The closest supermarket for most people was less than a mile away, but people chose the market that was more than three miles away.” Behavioral economics to the rescue!

What seems like a more likely driver than proximity is calories-per-dollar. That is, if you’re poor and trying to stretch your grocery budget, you may be more likely to buy cheap, filling, ready-to-eat foods than baby carrots and celery. Albertsons can put out all the ““better-for-you” food tags they want, their customers want something to microwave and tuck into, and they will drive extra miles to Albertsons for a good price on good-to-go meals.

So the major finding is that availability of healthy foods–fresh fruits and produce, unprocessed staples–isn’t as big a factor as the price. (And the effort it takes to prepare them–time as you know is money). Whole Foods shoppers’ skinniness likely has less to do with Whole Foods than with wealthier, well-educated people tending to living healthier lifestyles, having the time and money to prepare good meals, and not having to worry about going hungry the few days before the next paycheck.

5 thoughts on “Fat Albertsons? UW Study Affirms Economics of Obesity

  1. to me, at least, that if you’re in the market for anorexic hotties (M or F), Whole Foods is the place to be.

    Kind of surprised that Safeway ranked as high as they did. Uggh.

  2. Actually, the REAL story here just might be that people who carry a healthy weight are making better, healthier food choices, moment by moment, regardless of the name of the grocery store. I think it’s ridiculous to suggest that people who shop at an Albertson’s for example, are limited to poor food choices and are therefore, fat. Absolutely ridiculous! Albertson stores are great stores and someone interested in good health and appropriate weight CAN buy healthy food at these stores any time. Perhaps the real question is this. Are the fat and poor shoppers choosing instant gratification (I’ll eat that sweet roll now) over long-term consequences of being leaner and healthier? In case you’re wondering: women shopping at Neiman Marcus stores are almost ALWAYS thinner than the average Wal-Mart shopper. Being fat shows that a person is choosing excess calories.

  3. No Margie, it shows what we’ve already known — that it’s expensive to be thin, because produce is more expensive than fatty foods.

    But you’re too busy beating on poor people like some upper middle class Republican twit who wants everything from the government but doesn’t want to pay taxes because it will go to the incompetent government.

    It’s simple economics, but you refuse to believe it. And thus everything wrong with America right now.

  4. “Being fat shows that a person is choosing excess calories.”

    Yes and no…I’ve been reading “Good Calories Bad Calories” ( http://amzn.to/9hKL2T) which relays the science that it’s carbs and sugar that promote insulin production which promotes fat storage, not necessarily fat itself.

    And what is cheap and filling as the post above says? Sugar and carbs. So someone could gorge on whole grains, vegetables and even cheese all day and not get obese, at least according to Gary Taubes. His main point is that people aren’t obese because of “choosing excess calories” but rather the kind of calories they choose.

    Anyway, interesting stuff, interesting post.

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