The skinniest people shop at Whole Foods where only 4 percent of the shoppers are obese. Why? It’s all about money–or lack thereof.
People who are poor and have less to spend on food try to get the biggest calorie bang for their food buck. That means they not only shop at cheaper stores, but also buy less healthy food.
The study: A University of Washington research team tracked 2,001 Seattle area shoppers between December 2008 and March 2009. They compared their choice of supermarkets to data they collected on the participants’ education, income and obesity rates. Obesity rates were measured by asking consumers to report their height and weight so their body mass index (BMI) could be calculated. People with a BMI higher than 30 were identified as obese.
The results: The percentage of obese shoppers is almost 10 times higher at low-cost grocery stores, compared with more upscale stores. And poverty is the key reason.
Lead study author Adam Drewnowski, an epidemiology professor who studies obesity and social class, says people who can pay $6 for a pound of radicchio at Whole Foods are obviously better able to afford a healthy diet than those who buy $1.88 packs of pizza rolls at Albertson’s to feed their kids. “If people wanted a diet to be cheap, they went to one supermarket,” Drewnowski told MSNBC. “If they wanted their diet to be healthy, they went to another supermarket and spent more.” He found that only 15 percent of shoppers chose a store based on its proximity to their home. Instead, almost all the shoppers chose a store based on price or quality.
Sticker shock: All the stores offered the same type of food, including fresh fruits and vegetables. But the prices were vastly different. The average price for a market basket of food at Whole Foods was between $370 and $420, compared with the same basket of food at Albertson’s for $225 to $280.
“Deep down, obesity is really an economic issue,” Drewnowski told MSNBC. Eating healthy, low-calorie food costs more money and requires more preparation skills and time than consuming processed, high-calorie foods. MSNBC reports that in a separate study in 2008, Drewnowski estimated that a calorie-dense diet costs $3.52 a day, compared with $36.32 a day for a low-calorie diet. “What this says is your social economic status is clearly associated with how overweight you are,” he told MSNBC.
Grocery stores and percentage of obese shoppers:
• Whole Foods Markets: 4 percent
• Metropolitan Market: 8 percent
• Puget Consumers Cooperative (PCC): 12 percent
• Quality Food Centers (QFC): 17 percent
• Fred Meyer: 22 percent
• Safeway: 24 percent
• Albertsons: 38 percent