Are Wal-Mart shoppers low-income fatsos? You might be surprised:
. . . the two free-market economists have been intrigued by the Wal-Mart debate and wanted to test some of the more common criticisms of the store. Generally, they've found that the worst fears about Wal-Mart are unfounded, and that the stores have a mostly positive impact on their communities.
But they thought this one might be different. “We expected the study to show an increase in obesity in communities with a Wal-Mart,” Carden says. “We know that Wal-Mart lowers the cost of food, but we figured it's not always the best food for you.”
To their surprise, they found the opposite—there was a small but statistically significant reduction in obesity rates in communities with a Wal-Mart, perhaps because the store also sells fresh produce of good quality at a good price.
Broadening the study to big-box stores in general, the effect was even more pronounced. “People actually bought more produce, more fruits and vegetables,” Carden says. “Instead of just eating more, they ate a higher-quality diet—a lower-fat diet than the rest of the population.”
According to one study cited in the story, when Wal-Mart comes to town, other stores lower their prices to compete. The mere presence of a Wal-Mart results in the equivalent of a 6.5 percent increase in annual income. On food alone, the store brings a 25 percent benefit to consumers, which helps mostly, yes, the poor. Add in the fact that Wal-Mart carries such a quantity and variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, and it becomes harder to accept the notion that the super store hurts communities.