Ever stand behind one of those shoppers in the supermarket queue and feel amazed at the poor dietary choices that person is making? Then find yourself looking at the person and judging the effect of their choices.
I have. Me bad.
But here’s something that shows that my hope that if people could just access better food they would buy it, has been dealt a terminal blow.
Efforts to fight obesity in the U.S. have often tried to target and eliminate “food deserts”—neighborhoods in which residents have no nearby grocery stores or other access to fresh foods. If people could only buy healthy, wholesome food down the street and didn’t have to commute to do so, the logic goes, then they would eat—and be—healthier.
A 2014 report from the RAND Corporation, however, calls this entire premise into question. The study found that the price of foods inside the store is actually a better predictor of obesity than distance to a store: The lower the prices, the greater the risk of obesity.
It turns out that low-income shoppers are often willing (particularly if they have access to a car) to travel to a store to shop and will travel further than they might need to in order to get to a low price (often at a big-box) store such as Walmart or Costco. The report surveyed a selection of low- and high-price stores, and while the low-price stores tend to offer fruits and vegetables at roughly the same prices as the high-price stores, their junk foods are also cheaper.