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Friday, April 6, 2012

Supermarkets can affect weight

A team of French scientists plus their colleagues from Australia, the U.S., Canada and Sweden tested whether the location where people buy their food can affect how much they weigh. Somewhat surprisingly, the answer is that it can.

The researchers surveyed over 7000 Parisians as they went about their normal food shopping for a year. During that time, the participants used over 1000 different supermarkets. It was noteworthy that only 30% of shoppers regularly used the closest supermarket to their homes, and only 11% stayed within their neighborhoods. This means that researchers can’t make any assumptions about what kinds of foods are being consumed based on neighborhood shops and restaurants.

After accounting for factors such as socioeconomic status, people who shopped at the same store were more similar in body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC) than people who lived in the same neighborhood. In particular, shopping in a discount store was associated with a higher BMI and WC. Traveling further to reach one’s primary supermarket was also associated with greater BMI and WC.

I should point out that the differences were not large. Changing from one supermarket to another is not going to greatly affect a person’s health. However, health care professionals may want to keep these data in mind when designing educational campaigns.