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Walmart Stores Found to Increase Obesity

Walmart Stores Found to Increase Obesity

Story at-a-glance -

  • A new study suggests the proliferation of Walmart Supercenters explains 10.5% of the rise in obesity since the late 1980s
  • An additional Wal-Mart Supercenter per 100,000 residents increases average body-mass index (BMI) by 0.24 units and the obesity rate by 2.3% points
  • Basing your diet on processed foods like those at Wal-Mart is a major contributing factor in the obesity epidemic because these foods are highly processed, and contain high levels of fructose, sugar and refined grains
  • Limiting fructose in your diet, including those from processed foods, is essential to fighting obesity and losing weight

By Dr. Mercola

If you've seen Robert Greenwald's excellent documentary, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices, you're aware of the many social and financial problems created every time a Wal-Mart store opens in your area.

They may be the "king of low prices" but not without a steep cost to the communities in which the stores reside.

For example, Penn State University researchers estimate some 20,000 American families have dropped below the poverty level due to the astounding growth of Wal-Mart between 1987 and 1998.

And in counties where Wal-Mart stores are located, more than 15 percent of families depend on food stamps, compared to the national norm of 8 percent.

Is Wal-Mart Linked to the 10.5% Rise in Obesity?

Wal-Mart prides itself on selling large quantities of low-cost goods, including food, and researchers have tested the hypothesis that the substantial reductions in the prices of food at Wal-Mart Supercenters ends up "reducing the opportunity cost of food consumption and increasing the opportunity cost of physical activity," thereby leading to a rise in obesity rates.

A connection was indeed found, and a substantial one at that. After examining the effects of Wal-Mart Supercenters on body mass index (BMI) and obesity, researchers found an additional Wal-Mart Supercenter per 100,000 residents increases average BMI by 0.24 units and the obesity rate by 2.3% points. They report:

"These results imply that the proliferation of Walmart Supercenters explains 10.5% of the rise in obesity since the late 1980s …"

This makes perfect sense, really, because the lower food prices apply to primarily packaged processed foods. If you are basing your diet on these foods you are virtually guaranteed to experience weight gain, as they are loaded with sugar, fructose and grains, the "evil trinity" for your waistline!

The plain truth is, if you're spending the majority of your food budget on processed foods, your weight is at risk, and this is true whether you buy them at Wal-Mart or Whole Foods.

Is Easy Access to Cheap Processed Foods Causing the Rise in Obesity?

Over the past year, not a single U.S. state has seen a decline in obesity rates. Instead, the incidence of obesity has risen in 16 states, and 12 states now have obesity rates over 30 percent! A mere four years ago, only one state had such a high rate of obesity. At this pace, the rest of the nation will soon catch up... Two-thirds of all US states already have obesity rates exceeding 25 percent.

Overall, 66 percent of American adults and nearly one-third of children and teens are currently obese or overweight…

There is no doubt in my mind that a great deal of this increase is due to the consumption of sugar and fructose, which is really synonymous with processed foods because the majority of fructose is hidden processed foods. The average American now consumes 1/3 of a pound of sugar DAILY. That's five ounces or 150 grams, half of which is fructose, which is 300 percent more than the amount that will trigger biochemical havoc. And many Americans consume more than twice that amount!

To put it into even further perspective, based on USDA estimates the average American consumes the equivalent of about TWO TONS of sugar during their lifetime. So is it really any wonder that the United States is the fattest of 33 countries, with a whopping 66 percent of Americans crowding into the overweight category?

Fructose is metabolized quite differently than glucose, with the majority being converted directly into fat by your liver. It actually tricks your body into gaining weight by fooling your metabolism. Fructose does not appropriately stimulate insulin, which in turn does not suppress ghrelin (the "hunger hormone") and doesn't stimulate leptin (the "satiety hormone"), which together result in your eating more and developing insulin resistance.

When eaten in excess, fructose rapidly leads to weight gain and abdominal obesity ("beer belly"), decreased HDL, increased LDL, elevated triglycerides, elevated blood sugar, and high blood pressure—i.e., classic metabolic syndrome. Over time it also leads to insulin resistance, which is not only an underlying factor of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, but also many cancers.

That said, money alone is not the deciding factor driving people to choose junk foods -- convenience and junk foods' addictive nature also contribute, as it is possible to feed your family a wholesome home-cooked meal for less than they can eat at many fast-food restaurants if you're so inclined.

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80 Percent of Wal-Mart's Products Come from China

Aside from the fact that Wal-Mart offers mostly processed junk foods that could make you fat, why else might you want to avoid shopping there? Personally, I do not set foot in Wal-Mart stores because of their abusive business practices and the way they are helping to degrade organic food standards.

Wal-Mart is actually the largest single U.S. importer of Chinese goods, importing over $30 billion in goods from China every year. This not only accounts for 80 percent of Wal-Mart's imports but also 15 percent of the total U.S. imports of Chinese goods. Not only does this drive American companies to shut down plants and move manufacturing to China, but China is now almost as well known for toxic food ingredients as they are for electronics. Especially in the light of the recent string of disasters, such as:

  • Pet food ingredients laced with toxic melamine
  • Imported livestock quarantined for disease and banned chemical contaminants
  • Catfish fillets from Chinese aquatic farms tainted with bacteria and heavy metals
  • Dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical; mushrooms laced with illegal pesticides
  • Chinese-raised fish, which are commonly sold in U.S. supermarkets, are often fed a diet of chicken waste and human waste. And to compensate for the lack of clean water they pump in antibiotics, fungicides and pesticides -- many of which are banned carcinogens in the United States

Most recently there was also the case of the exploding watermelons due to the growth accelerator forchlorfenuron -- although to be fair this chemical is also legal in the United States. And, as I mentioned, Wal-Mart also promotes a distorted view of organic foods. Ever since they decided to significantly increase their organic offerings, they have been bombarded with accusations of selling substandard organic food, produced at factory farms or imported from China, not grown on small, U.S. organic farms like consumers are led to believe.

They've even been accused of posting signs in their stores that mislead consumers into believing that non-organic items are actually organic. It's reasons like these why your best source of food will virtually always be from local farmers, not huge superstores like Wal-Mart.

Foolish and Ignorant Government Attempt to Fight Obesity

In related obesity news, the country of Denmark is attempting to solve the "battle of the bulge" in a way that is entirely counterproductive -- the country is instituting the first-ever "fat tax."  Since the 1st of October, Danes have seen a price increase in products that are high in saturated fats, including butter and high-fat dairy products. The increases amount to about 30 percent more for a pack of butter and over 7 percent more for a liter of olive oil.

This is quite outrageous, as they have taxed the WRONG item -- healthy saturated fats instead of sugar!

The effort is doomed to fail, as the idea that saturated fats are responsible for obesity is a myth that has been harming your health for the last 30 or 40 years. The truth is, saturated fats provide the building blocks for your cell membranes and a variety of hormones. When you eat saturated fats as part of your meal, they actually help slow down absorption so that you can go longer without feeling hungry. In addition, they act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

This Danish fat tax could actually make obesity WORSE because of the collusion between industry and government. Gary Taubes has provided the best rebuttal to the mistaken concept that eating saturated fat will make you fat and lead to heart disease in the book he wrote, Good Calories Bad Calories. Gary is one of the leading science journalists and he devoured the literature on this and reviewed all the studies and he expertly debunks their flawed logic and details how this misunderstanding has contributed to the epidemic of chronic disease in the U.S.

Eating healthy fats is actually conducive to weight loss. The fatty acid conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), found in grass-fed beef and full-fat dairy products from grass-fed cows (butter, milk, cheese, etc.), is associated with reduced body fat and weight.

For instance, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate 3.2 grams of CLA a day had a drop in fat mass of about 0.2 pounds a week (that's about one pound a month) compared to those given a placebo. Research also shows that women who ate at least one serving of full-fat dairy a day gained 30 percent less weight over a nine-year period than women who ate only low-fat (or no) dairy products.

Unfortunately, many people are still shunning healthy foods like raw butter and grass-fed beef, which contain saturated fat, because they believe it will cause heart disease, and now more may shun them because they will be more expensive. In reality, saturated fats are among the healthiest fats you can consume.

Once you review the research, it's clear that if you are serious about losing weight, you have got to strictly limit the amount of fructose in your diet, as evidence is mounting that excess sugar, and fructose in particular, is the primary factor in the obesity epidemic. So if you're going to tax a food item to fight obesity, it has got to be fructose, not fat!

What Can You do to Lose Weight and Fight Obesity?

If you want to lose weight, cutting soda, regular and sugar-free, from your diet is essential. However many fail to appreciate the importance of cutting out other sources of fructose, including those found in processed foods, fruit juice, excessive fruit and so-called "healthy" sweeteners like agave. Ideally you should keep your total fructose consumption below 25 grams per day and this includes fruits. This is especially true if you have insulin resistance and are overweight, have high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol.

For the majority of people, severely restricting carbohydrates such as sugars, fructose, and grains in your diet will be the key to weight loss. Refined carbohydrates like breakfast cereals, bagels, waffles, pretzels, and most other processed foods quickly break down to sugar, increase your insulin levels, and cause insulin resistance, which is the number one underlying factor of nearly every chronic disease and condition known to man, including weight gain.

As you cut these dietary villains from your meals, you need to replace them with healthy substitutes like vegetables, proteins and fats (including saturated fats!). Your body prefers the carbohydrates in vegetables rather than grains and sugars because it slows the conversion to simple sugars like glucose, and decreases your insulin level. When you cut grains and sugar from your meals, you typically will need to radically increase the amount of vegetables you eat, as well as make sure you are also consuming protein and healthy fats regularly.

I've detailed a step-by-step guide to this type of healthy eating program in my comprehensive nutrition plan, and I urge you to consult this guide if you are trying to lose weight. 

The foods you choose to eat will be the driving force behind successfully achieving your weight loss goals -- even more so than exercise. It's important to realize that exercise -- even if you incorporate exercises like Peak Fitness into your routine -- will NOT compensate for excessive fructose, sugar and processed food use, which will destroy many of the benefits of your hard work. Exercise is still important for weight loss and optimal health, but  the primary focus is on eating healthy foods.