Boxing up on obesity -Too much too cheap?

Recent research from the National Bureau of Economic Research investigating external forces influencing obesity has found that two particular factors that may be highly influential: Big-box stores and the proliferation of restaurants.

In light of the skyrocketing obesity epidemic, much effort has been made in order to reveal some of the external and internal causes of obesity. Plenty of environmental factors have been highlighted, including food deserts and desk jobs. The aim of these four researchers was to analyze as many as possible of these notions in order to identify the sources that seem to have the greatest effect on the rise of obesity.

The researchers examined 27 factors associated with obesity and analyzed them in what they called a “statistical horserace”, meaning that they inspected each element and held everything else constant, such as demographic or economic changes.

Two factors stood out as significant drivers of the obesity epidemic: the rise of big-box stores, like Costco, and the proliferation of restaurants. Interestingly, regular supermarkets actually had a negative effect on the obesity rate, suggesting that the underlying reason is not that food has become more accessible, but that the extremely low prices and large quantities at big-box stores seem to be the underlying factor.

Moreover, the time-efficiency of just stopping by a restaurant in an environment where restaurants are everywhere seems to be highly influential as well.

Courtemanche, one of the researchers, explains that this does not imply food should be more expensive, but rather that this knowledge should be taken into account by governmental policy and nutritional guidelines supporting subsidization of healthy food and taxation of junk food.

The researchers point out that it may be a depressing reality that one of our nation’s most costly problems may actually be partly due to food being too cheap. “We’d all like something to be all good or all bad,” Courtemanche said, “and the reality is that often there are things that are mostly good but have some adverse consequences.”

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