Discount supermarkets linked to higher obesity rates

NEW YORK — Frequenting certain retail stores may affect customers' waistlines, according to a new study.

Published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers sought to determine whether physical proximity to food stores or food prices within the store would be more strongly associated with obesity rates (adjusting for individual level demographics, education and income). The data were obtained through the Seattle Obesity Study, based on a representative sample of adult residents of King County, Wash., which includes the city of Seattle. Data on sociodemographics, food shopping behaviors, weights and health were obtained through a 25-minute telephone survey. Researchers collected and geocoded data on home addresses and food shopping destinations, including brand names and addresses of supermarkets that were identified as the primary food source.

While many retailers have been working to meet the needs of its customers by converting "food deserts" into "food oases," the "Obesity and Supermarket Access: Proximity or Price?" study concluded that obesity prevalence among shoppers in higher-price supermarkets was 9%, which is less than half of the county average (20.5%); whereas obesity prevalence among shoppers in lower-price or discount supermarkets was 27%, above the county average. Physical distance to the supermarket had no impact on obesity rates, the researchers noted. The study also concluded that food costs trumped convenience.

"Systematic efforts to reduce obesity will need to take economic inequalities into account. Ensuring equitable access to healthy affordable foods, with the emphasis on affordable, may be key," study's authors concluded.

Meanwhile, a survey conducted last year by AlixPartners found that a little more than half of all consumers (51%) identified a traditional grocery retailer as their point of destination when making a grocery trip; however, more customers are frequenting mass merchandisers, drug stores and dollar stores for food. The average shopper makes 1.8 trips per week specifically to pick up groceries, AlixPartners said.