60 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2008 Last revised: 4 Nov 2010
Date Written: September 10, 2010
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 percentage 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.
Keywords: Walmart, Wal-Mart, warehouse clubs, obesity, body weight, body mass index
JEL Classification: I10, D0, L81, R10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Courtemanche, Charles and Carden, Art, Supersizing Supercenters? The Impact of Wal-Mart Supercenters on Body Mass Index and Obesity (September 10, 2010). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1263316 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1263316