According to recent research conducted by a health economist from the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University, fast-food restaurants and big-box retailers, such as Costco, BJ’s Wholesale, Sam’s Club and Walmart are major contributors to the obesity epidemic in the United States. According to Charles Courtemanche and his research team, people who live close to an abundance of readily available, cheap food from a wide variety of sources are more likely to be overweight or obese.
Courtemanche, who is also an assistant professor in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, added in a press release: “People are doing a lot of eating. But as economists, we know people’s preferences don’t change overnight, so the steady rise since 1980 must involve their incentives to eat.”
The researchers built a comprehensive economic model of body weight and 27 state-level variables, and sorted them into categories, such as labor supply, general economic conditions (income and unemployment), monetary or time costs directly associated with calorie intake (retail presence, food prices), physical activity (fitness centers, gasoline prices) and smoking. The study was published in the National Bureau of Economic Research and is titled “Impatience, Incentives, and Obesity.”
“Changes in variables related to calorie intake collectively explain 37 percent of the rise in body mass index (BMI) rates and 43 percent of the rise in obesity. And our data show that the pervasive presence of supercenters, warehouse clubs and restaurants are responsible for most of these gains,” added Courtemanche.
Notably, the rise in gas prices and accessibility of fitness centers were found to work against the locals’ rise in BMI. Furthermore, the research indicates that these effects might not be the same for everyone. “The greatest rise in weight is concentrated among people already at risk for obesity. And their response to the variables related to calorie intake can help us understand why BMI rates are changing,” said Courtemanche.
The rise in food stamp benefits and the decrease of blue-collar workers also contribute to the nation’s increasing obesity. “The best explanation for the difference between these workers, outside of physical movement, is time flexibility,” Courtemanche explained. “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.”