America's Obesity Epidemic is All Walmart's Fault, Study Finds

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America's Obesity Epidemic is All Walmart's Fault, Study Finds

According to a new report, America’s obesity epidemic over the last three decades can be traced to one major culprit: Walmart.

The Arkansas-based retailer’s expansion in the last 30 years mirrors the expansion of the nation’s waistline, its focus on selling cheap bulk processed foods taking the brunt of the blame.

“The first Walmart store opened in 1962,” reports the Washington Post. “The first Sam’s Club debuted in 1983. The first Walmart Supercenter came in 1988. And today, thousands of warehouse-style grocery destinations offer bargains in bulk to shoppers across the country.”

While shopping in bulk can be a fiscally smart choice, it really depends on the quality of the food being purchased. A ten-pound bag of oats is one thing, a ten-pack of sugary oat cereal, entirely another.

“We live in an environment with increasingly cheap and readily available junk food,” Charles Courtemanche, assistant professor of economics at Georgia State University and co-author of the paper told the Post. “We buy in bulk. We tend to have more food around. It takes more and more discipline and self-control to not let that influence your weight.”

The report, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, looked at the correlation between the number of Walmart Supercenters in a given area and the obesity rates.

“Opening an additional store per 100,000 residents increased an area’s average body mass index by 0.24 units, or 10.8 percent of the sample obesity rate, the study found,” reports the Post. “These estimates imply that the proliferation of Walmart Supercenters explains 10.5 percent of the rise in obesity since the late 1980s,” the report explained.

And the report notes that even if you’re not a Walmart shopper, the density of the stores is likely still impacting your diet. “Stores like Target, for example, were pressured to offer similar deals” to keep up with demand.

Walmart responded to the story in the Post, stating that "It's clear that their research did not consider any of Walmart’s commitments to make healthy eating easier in the U.S.," Walmart spokesperson Tara Greco said in an e-mail. "Four years ago, Walmart unveiled a comprehensive effort to provide its customers with healthier and more affordable food choices. Since then, the company has made significant progress in product reformulation, building stores in food deserts and providing access to fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as increasing charitable support for nutrition programs that help educate consumers about healthier food solutions and choices."

Although Walmart has been making changes to its offerings, it’s still too soon to tell whether or not it will have an impact on the obesity epidemic. According to the latest data from Gallup-Healthways, in 2014, 27.7 percent of adults were considered obese, which is up from 25.5 percent in 2008.

A person is considered obese with a body mass index of 30 or greater. Obesity has been connected with an increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and strokes.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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