Are Supermarkets To Blame For the Obesity Epidemic?

The local supermarket, or rather supermarkets (I can count three that are five minutes from my house), could be making us fat: New research in Scientific Reports suggests that it may not be genetics or our individual lifestyle choices that are behind the obesity epidemic but what City College of New York physicist Hernán Makse calls the “growth of the supermarket economy,”

Much research about obesity has focused on individual factors, such as a person’s genetics or his or her lifestyle choices. Makse and his colleagues instead looked at patterns of food marketing and distribution, to consider how social pressures and collective behavior play a role in people’s eating habits and other behaviors and affect obesity rates.

That is, to what extent is the presence of so many fast food outlets — plus supermarkets stuffed with (it seems) every possible commodity, 24-hour convenience stores, etc. — a factor in the obesity epidemic?

Study About Collective Behavior and Obesity

Drawing on data from by the US Centers for Disease Control Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance Systems for 2004 through 2008, the researchers found that Greene County, Alabama, was the epicenter of the obesity epidemic in that period. They noted two “obesity clusters” of high rates of obesity, each about 1,000 kilometers from the central point, one along the Appalachian Mountains and a second in the lower Mississippi River valley: Neighboring areas, they noted, are likely to have similar percentages of their population who are obese. (A color-coded map charting rising obesity rates in the US is certainly eye-opening.)

From examining the concentration of industries associated with food production and sales (supermarkets, food and beverage stores, restaurants and bars), the researchers found that “areas with above-average concentrations of food-related businesses had high-than-normal prevalence of obesity and diabetes.” If only genetics were the reason for the rise in obesity rates — for the obesity epidemic — they would not have seen the correlations, says Makse.

If Makse’s and his colleagues’ findings are borne out, they provide evidence for the sorts of policies such as New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban on large-size sodas, regulations about marketing fast food to children and laws imposing taxes on foods with fat and sugar. Criticism of such bans often takes the form of “it’s up to people to make their own choices” and evokes fears of the “nanny state.”

But consider how just a few decades ago the average size of a soda was a mere percentage of the giant “big gulp” people expect now. Portion sizes for restaurant meals in the US have grown prodigiously. In addressing the obesity epidemic, do we need to look not only at people’s individual choices, but at cultural and societal factors that influence the behavior of an entire community, whether we know it or not?


Related Care2 Coverage

Are “Healthy” Fast-Food Meals for Kids Really Healthy?

Why It Is In Our Best Economic Interest to Fight Obesity

Are We Fated To Be Fat?


Photo by qmnonic


Oleg Kobetz
Oleg Kobetz2 years ago

Thank you

Oleg Kobetz
Oleg Kobetz2 years ago

Thank you

tin leng lim
tin leng lim3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Duane B.
.3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Chrissie Hanlon
Chrissie H.3 years ago

Supermarkets offer choice and variety,but we have to be responsible for our own actions'.No one makes us buy the unhealthy foods' which can make us obese. We all know what we should and shouldn't eat without being told,but some carry on buying it regardless. We are masters' of our own destiny...!

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

No. The ones to blame are consumers. YOU make the choice to buy and eat fatty foods. YOU make the choice to eat and vegetate rather than exercise and live. YOU make the choice to instill bad eating and exercising habits into your children. Those are YOUR choices. The stores will take advantage of the laziness and greed of consumers. It's how they make money. so stop being over eating lazy consumers. instead be educated, smart, decision-making consumers who eat right and stay active. and STOP BLAMING EVERYONE ELSE for giving you choices that you can't handle

Karin B.
Karin B.4 years ago

I believe that supermarkets are to blame for the obesity problem. They are out to make money off of every lazy person who wants to purchase ready to eat, processed, preservative and sodium laden food instead of wholesome single ingredient foods that need to be cooked. I have a very difficult time in many stores because I do not want ready made foods to throw in the microwave. I enjoy preparing my food myself and watching the salt content... but many of these types of items are not in the supermarkets today and I need to shop online for many of the ingredients. In addition, the excuse that you work hence you do not have time to prepare nutritious home made meals is a bunch of bull - it takes a little preparation but it can be done - I know because I've been doing it my whole life and working an 80 and hour a week job.

Patty C.
Patty Cook4 years ago

Supermarkets are not to blame for obesity. People choose what they want to consume - plain and simple.

June Lacy
June Lacy4 years ago


Carol W.
Carol Wiedemer4 years ago

Absolutely not!!! Their responsibility is to offer the huge variety that we demand. It is then your responsibility to be aware of what you consume. Stop playing the blame game and take responsibility for your actions.