Supersizing supercenters? The impact of Walmart Supercenters on body mass index and obesity

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122 Scopus citations

Abstract

Researchers have linked the rise in obesity to technological progress reducing the opportunity cost of food consumption and increasing the opportunity cost of physical activity. We examine this hypothesis in the context of Walmart Supercenters, whose advancements in retail logistics have translated to substantial reductions in the prices of food and other consumer goods. Using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System matched with Walmart Supercenter entry dates and locations, we examine the effects of Supercenters on body mass index (BMI) and obesity. We account for the endogeneity of Walmart Supercenter locations with an instrumental variables approach that exploits the unique geographical pattern of Supercenter expansion around Walmart's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. An additional Supercenter per 100,000 residents increases average BMI by 0.24 units and the obesity rate by 2.3% points. These results imply that the proliferation of Walmart Supercenters explains 10.5% of the rise in obesity since the late 1980s, but the resulting increase in medical expenditures offsets only a small portion of consumers' savings from shopping at Supercenters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-181
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Urban Economics
Volume69
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2011

Keywords

  • Body mass index
  • Body weight
  • Obesity
  • Supercenter
  • Wal-Mart
  • Walmart

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Urban Studies

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