Do supermarkets improve our diets?

Maybe not:

Better access to supermarkets — long touted as a way to curb obesity in low-income neighborhoods — doesn’t improve people’s diets, according to new research. The study, which tracked thousands of people in several large cities for 15 years, found that people didn’t eat more fruits and vegetables when they had supermarkets available in their neighborhoods.

Instead, income — and proximity to fast food restaurants — were the strongest factors in food choice.

The original piece (gated) is here.

Comments

Fielding and Simon (not the authors of the study) published a commentary in the same issue. I think the two paragraphs below give a bit more insight into the limitations of the supermarket part of the study, as well as policy implications that grow out of this:

"Another notable finding of the study is the lack of an association between supermarket availability and dietary behaviors, including fruit and vegetable intake, leading the authors to conclude that several major initiatives currently under way to bring supermarkets to underserved communities may have little benefit in improving diets. This conclusion is questionable given that the study did not assess the quality of the food or relatives prices in these venues. For example, the addition of a supermarket in an underserved community may be necessary but not sufficient to induce increased fruit and vegetable consumption unless accompanied by efforts to ensure high-quality and affordable produce. The placement and in-store merchandising of these products are also likely important determinants of purchasing patterns.
"The greatest challenge in this area of research is how to address the complexity of local food environments. In many disadvantaged communities, the food environment is more swamp than desert, with a plethora of fast food; convenience stores selling calorie-dense packaged foods, super-sized sodas, and other sugar-loaded beverages; and other nonfood retail venues selling junk food as a side activity. Policy efforts to reduce access to these products, though politically challenging, will likely have a greater impact on reducing the obesity epidemic than efforts focused solely on increasing access to fresh produce and other healthy options."

I'm not all that familiar with the literature in this area, but my impression is that the methodology study is better than most have been (longitudinal vs. cross-sectional) but still pretty weak when compared to standards of evidence in other areas of public health.

That authors' quote with "policy efforts" sounds ominous. Fat government mandating thin people?

I've worked in the grocery industry for many years and these findings are of no surprise to me at all.

Carden and Courtemanche have some research relevant to this in the Journal of Urban Economics
69 (2) p.165-181. From the abstract, "An additional [Wal-Mart] Supercenter per 100,000 residents increases average BMI by 0.24 units and the obesity rate by 2.3% points."

I'm guessing the causal claim in that quote isn't that well supported. Care to summarize their methodology?

This should be filed under things that don't need a study. Healthy foods are more expensive and less tasty than cheeseburgers and candy bars.

"Healthy foods are more expensive and less tasty than cheeseburgers and candy bars."

Hardly.

A candy bar for a dollar vs a fresh ripe tomato from my garden - the tomato is both cheaper and tastier. A tomato at the farm stand is both cheaper and tastier. Even some of the tomatoes picked mature green and then "ripened" with ethylene gas is cheaper and sort of tastier.

The craving for salt-sugar-fat is not about taste but about satisfying the near addiction for them - salt, sugar, fat have no taste. Fast food burgers have no taste either, except for some sauces. I get more satisfaction from eating the condiments they give you out of their packages than the burger or dogs.

Fixing food that isn't prepared is more daunting than people who do it all the time realize. Supermarkets filled with prepared foods make it easy to take the easy way out and pick up something already prepared instead of figuring out how to prepare fresh carrots or broccoli or beans.

Sugar has no taste? Salt has no taste? So why do words like "sweet" and "salty" exist?

Maybe you mean "texture"?

The "prepared food" and "unhealthy food" issues are often conflated and the food industry is to blame. Yet the distinction is important. A fresh, grass fed, organic steak might still be worse for someone with high cholesterol than some canned asparagus. With modern canning and other preservation techniques, prepared foods no longer have to have huge quantities of chemicals added. The evil food processors still might; but this is no longer axiomatic.

Another fallacy comes from not evaluating risks rationally. Yes, there is an elevated risk of cancers due to some preservatives, or even sugar substitutes. But if you are a morbidly obese person that risk is far smaller than you dying simply of a cardiovascular complication. People worry excessively about carcinogens in preservatives etc. when for most of us the real risk-reduction comes from just maintaining a correct calorie, fat and carb profile. Let's focus on the first order effects before we get to the higher order ones. The artificial chemicals aren't killing as many of us as just the wrong kind and amount of food. A calorie is a calorie; get it from a can or your kitchen garden.

I doubt the mainstream modern world is going to go back to wholesale kitchen gardening. The pragmatic approach is to lobby processors to produce healthier processed food and to nudge people in eating it right. Yes, at the margin organic, fresh, un-preserved food might still be the healthiest; but the world is a long way away from that margin.

What do you think flavors the condiments on your burger? Sugar and salt, probably.

Sugar and salt (and sour and bitter) are the ONLY things that have taste. Everything else is smell and mouth-feel. And take it from someone who lost his sense of taste (but could smell fine) for six months. Without taste, it's hardly worth eating.

don't forget umami

I don't understand why, on an economics blog, so many people appeal to their own personal experience to generalize the entire population. Many (possibly most) people that would be effected by the sudden arrival of a supermarket are living in poor urban areas-- these are the places that supermarkets are reluctant locate. This type of environment is not conducive to home-grown foods. There's no place to grow them, certainly not a variety, and definitely not in the volume required to produce a significant amount of calories. So, moving away from the home-grown "free" version...

On a per-calorie basis, a tomato is massively more expensive than a candy bar. Local prices in my area are about $3/lb. According to calorie-count.com, 1lb of tomatoes has about 90 calories. Scaling to the 1lb level with multiple Hershey bars, 1lb costs about $7.25 and has approximately 2200 calories. 1 cent gets you about 1/3 of a calorie in tomatoes, or about 3.3 calories in chocolate bars-- roughly an order of magnitude more calories for your money.

You need not stick to candy bars either-- this is an equivalence that holds roughly the same for items on the dollar menus at most fast food places. Fast food places are abundant in poor urban areas lacking in grocery stores-- absent alternatives, they do a brisk business.

On taste? Well, taste is subjective, but I doubt you'd have many people who grew up in poor urban areas eating fast food agree with you that the unadorned tomato was as tasty, especially at the same price as the dollar menu sandwich (that also has a small slice of tomato on it!), nor would it be as satisfying/filling as meal in itself: 1 Burger, 1 small fries, 1 medium soda for $3, or a pound of tomatoes.

My guess on the lack of results in this study is that eating habits are difficult to change-- they are ingrained from birth, and the sudden appearance of a supermarket, by itself, is unlikely to have a major difference even in the medium-term 15 year period this study looked at. There is no pent up demand for fruits and vegetables, because this population has never had ready access to them before. It will likely take a generation's worth of access and education to start shifting behavior, not to mention changes to farm subsidies that make "junk" food so inexpensive relative to healthy alternatives.

Well sure but the whole problem is that advocates of more super markets are assuming that the poor people are not trying to maximize calories per dollar. In fact that they may be too close to the case that they are trying for calories so even with super markets they still get fat, maybe even quicker!

Exactly, which is why supermarkets alone are not going to fix too much, not in the short or mid term. It will take more to shift behavior, which seems to be the conclusion this study reaches as well: "Our findings provide some evidence for zoning restrictions on fast food restaurants within 3 km of low-income residents but suggest that increased access to food stores may require complementary or alternative strategies to promote dietary behavior change."

I am unlcear as to why we should be evaluating food on a "per-calorie basis." In a situation where people are starving, then getting low-cost calories is the solution. We are in America, though, and almost no one here is starving. Our present nutrition problems are almost 180 degrees in the opposite direction: people are malnourished because they consume too many calories with too few actual nutrients.

This is an economics blog, but it is also a blog about making marginal improvements to the world we inhabit.

Evaluation on a cost-per-calorie basis is just one form of measurement, cited in this case to refute the argument that healthier eating or fruit and vegetables can be both health and much cheaper, even "free".

I agree, low cost calories of nearly any sort are an adequate (though not ideal) short-term approach to anyone starving. Long term, consequences like obesity can emerge if that if that is a one-dimensional approach. The "180 degrees" problem you recognize is in part due to the de facto solution of ubiquitous low-cost calorie dense foods to the near exclusion of healthier alternatives in certain sections of the country, although the obesity rate of Urban Poor does not nearly encompass the entire obesity problem in the U.S.

Ask any 12 year old if a tomato tastes better than a candy bar. The difference is huge.

Bananas, cabbage, greens, carrots, beets, turnips (in fact most root props) are cheap.

On a price-per-calorie basis, Bananas are the only ones that are cheap on a level comparable to fast food. The others, while cheap on a price-per-lb basis, are significantly more per calorie than fast food alternatives. Cost-per-calorie, though only one measure, is important because there is a recognized minimum of about 2000 calories/day (men) and 1500/day (women) necessary to maintain a weight at a healthy BMI. (Yes, these are averages, and individuals vary, and yes, BMI is not a perfect measure for all body types & lifestyles.)

Given this, poor people are going to gravitate towards cheap calorie-dense foods rather than cheap foods that aren't calorie dense (even assuming equal access) because weight of the foods eaten does not determine "satisfaction" or feelings of "hunger" nearly as much as the actual caloric content does so. Of course, you need to determine more than just calorie content when evaluating cost, health level, etc of foods and a diet, but as a short hand for this situation, it's viable.

Bananas are the only cheap produce I can think of that are comparable in price & calorie density to fast foods. Other fruits are much lower in density, and often more expensive. Part of a diet & health education to urban poor who have access to a grocery store should include an "Eat Bananas" (although a drastic rise in banana consumption might change the supply & demand economics that help keep the price low)

'salt, sugar, fat have no taste'
Sorry, but that is wrong on at least two out of three -
'Humans receive tastes through sensory organs called taste buds,[1] or gustatory calyculi, concentrated on the upper surface of the tongue.[2]

The sensation of taste can be categorized into five basic tastes: sweetness, bitterness, sourness, saltiness, and umami. The recognition and awareness of umami is a relatively recent development in Western cuisine.[3] MSG produces a strong umami taste.[4]'
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taste

Salt is directly tasted, and 'sweetness' is often regarded as a direct sensory representation for sugar (sugar being by definition 'sweet') - though not a perfect correlation, as the sweetness of lead, glycol, etc. demonstrate.

Whether 'fat' has a taste is not quite the same as the discussion of whether the 'flavor enhancer' MSG has a taste - 20 years ago, it didn't, at least in American terms, while today, it does. Nontheless, fat is quite intricately linked to taste, making it arguably a major element of tasting in combination with other, fully recognized taste sensory inputs.

More men than women do not cook, and it is men that are most effected by the presence of fast food. The result of having fewer of them might be that the men would eat more junk food you can buy in food stores that is even less healthy than fast food.

Those who know about and desire produce likely self-select to be near grocery stores, so putting a grocery store near those who don't desire produce won't change their diet.

Also, isn't culture a huge driving force here? Someone raised on fast food wouldn't know what to do with fresh fruit and vegetables. How would they know how to pick a ripe melon? If they choose one randomly, they will likely get a tasteless, hard ball that would represent wasted money. Now, if the grocery store lasts 20 years or more in the area, we might see an increase in per-capita produce consumption, because those with knowledge may spread it to others. This doesn't mean subsidizing grocery stores in these areas is a good thing, though.

From what I observed, American feminists seem to have unique hatred of home work, including cooking. Except for recent migrants, cooking is culturally dead in American urban population.

That may have some effect on the overall obesity rate.

'From what I observed, American feminists seem to have unique hatred of home work, including cooking.'
Whereas as American men's anything but unique lack of any desire to do home work, including cooking, is the natural order of things?

What a silly statement - most people have a unique hatred of home work, when given any chance not to do it. Just ask anyone able to afford servants about their empirically and historically demonstrated, and not merely conjectured, 'unique hatred' of home work, including cooking.

I will respectfully disagree.

There is a difference between the general dislike to wash the dishes or iron the clothes, and a pseudo-religious ideological aversion that I witnessed with some of the above mentioned feminists.

Also, you would be surprised as how many people actually like to cook (as contrasted to the above mentioned washing of the dishes or ironing), as long as they are not indoctrinated to view cooking as slave-work beyond dignity of a modern woman.

I could imagine some women where your theory might hold. But that is the extreme feminist fringe which is a tiny (insignificant?) fraction of American women.

Also, if it is merely a feminist fad, why do the large majority of men hate to cook? It isn't so much as a dignity issue. Seems quite similar to why people don't enjoy mowing the lawn or shoveling snow.

Or think of it as going to the Church. Often, people did not enjoy it, yet when social taboos were strong people did it; once peer pressure relaxed we got lazy.

Of course, the entire picture is more complicated.

Cooking skills are usually transmitted from mom to daughter. If the mom spends the day in work, it is well possible that the transmission chain will be irreversibly interrupted.

And, in such case, the above mentioned ideology does not particularly encourage people to try to fix this problem. "Why should my daughter know how to cook, she is too important and special for such lowly tasks."

'I will respectfully disagree.'
Sure - but the history is exceedingly clear. Given the resources, most people, male or female, will gladly pay someone else to do the home work, including cooking.

'Also, you would be surprised as how many people actually like to cook...'
Well, cooking is an interesting subject - there are a number of people who enjoy cooking, but that number is still smaller than the number of people who don't enjoy cleaning up after cooking. Certainly cooking can be a pleasure, and not only from eating what is cooked - but cleaning up from cooking is rarely considered anything but a necessary evil.

'...modern woman.'
Oops - I thought the 'people' applied to, well, people - cooking need not be a male or female activity (though many societies definitely have a gender bias which is purely cultural). I enjoy cooking (and the gardening that goes with it in our case), while my mother hated cooking with a passion. It isn't about 'modern women' - it is about how people decide to live, and seeing the decline in cooking in general is a sad thing. Unless, of course, you are involved in agribusiness - in which case, the spent advertising dollars have paid off well.

'Cooking skills are usually transmitted from mom to daughter.'
Sure - traditionally. Which just might be the point, the same way that traditionally, those who earn money cooking are male.

Or maybe it's the same ubiquity of eat-out/take-out/fast-food alternatives (along with farm subsidies that suppress the full cost of many high-calorie foods) that has resulted in both the obesity rate and a general move away from food prep at home. Either way, as for cooking being culturally dead in urban america, I suspect you'd see quite a bit of social stratification on that issue.

Perhaps you need to do some more observing, because that is a profoundly ignorant statement.

The problem is that supermarkets are looking more like junk food stores day by day than like grocery stores. Dumping a supermarket downtown does not help if the supermarket doesn't sell the right kinds of food.

Huh. Who would have guessed that the causal relationship between urban markets not stocking fresh produce and poor urban residents not buying fresh produce would run the other way?

I mean, besides for anyone who's ever been to Chinatown.

I think that the type of foods that can be purchased with food stamps is the strongest driver of low income diets. Standard food stamps can be used to buy virtually any kind of "food," whereas those in the WIC program must be used only on a healthier list. Migrate both to that sort of set up and the urban stores will sell that type of food.

Hmm, I wasn't aware of the WIC program before, much less the restrictions. Having such a list for food stamps might improve things, but I worry at the "nanny state" aspect of such a mandate.

Such rules would also require massive retooling of food store systems. Ever get behind someone in line who is paying with WIC? It's a major pain because they are so complicated to ring up at the register: The cashier has to certify that the items bought are the correct ones. Rather few people use them so stores can get away with occasionally inflicting serious inconvenience on their customers, but if we did that with food stamps it would be impossible and store systems would have to be revamped to automatically differentiate between WIC-allowed food and non-WIC allowed food. Currently those categories do not exist-- it's just food vs non-food (with alcoholic beverages of course being treated as non-food, but all other consumables as food)

The only problem with that is it is hard or impossible for homeless people to prepare their own food. Even if you have an apartment, if you don't have a fridge, it's hard to store produce and meats, and cooking for a family can be difficult if you only have one of those single-burner portable range thingies.

This is nearly a complete cultural issue.

The English writer Theodore Dalrymple, who worked as a prison doctor in Britain, observed many a malnourished prisoner who subsisted on junk food. He pointed to a near complete absence of social eating, sitting down and eating with family or friends, among the white underclass as a cultural trait that contributed to malnutrition, even in neighborhoods where cheap produce could readily be purchased in immigrant Indian stores.

http://www.city-journal.org/html/12_4_oh_to_be.html

In the US, I would postulate two cultural factors. In the inner city, there definitely a strain of what Dalrymple observed, the over-reliance on quick, bad food. However, if you look at the data sets, the highest rates of obesity for whites and blacks occur in the South which has a food culture the centers around sweets and fried food. (think sweet tea and fried chicken and mashed potatoes). Given that the majority of African Americans live in the south, it is not surprising that inner cities in the north, filled from the great migration, would be cultural colonies of that Southern cooking.

@liberalarts: even WIC has enough wiggle room to be not super great.

I suspect this is all demand-driven. If the community wants fast food, it's going to get fast food. If it wants fruits and vegetables, it will get those.

One word: "Poor Future Time Orientation".

It explains poverty, obesity, consumption of "bad" foods, a lack of "good" supermarkets in poor areas, and an excess of fast food joints in those same areas.

It also explains the other various deviant behaviors of the poor: sexual promiscuity, single motherhood, lack of husbands, lack of fathers, criminality, etc. etc. etc.

But you can't say things like that in America...

Poor future time orientation does explain a lot of it; but to be fair one also needs to consider the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness:


The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This would imply that poverty is an unstable equilibrium. Just give a poor person a bit of capital, and he'll use it to buy some higher-quality substitutes for the cheap stuff he usually buys, and with the money he saves doing that he can buy higher quality substitutes for some other stuff, and it snowballs until he's not poor anymore. The poor future time orientation hypothesis implies that poverty is a stable equilibrium. Give a poor person some capital, and he's likely to consume it rather than invest it, and then he's right back where he started.

In the first world, at least, the latter hypothesis seems to make better predictions. It's worth noting that Captain Samuel Vimes was an alcoholic.

This works significantly with equipment such as bags, clothing, various home appliances etc. Pretty much each piece of such equipment that lasted for decades was, in my experience, quite expensive to buy, at least 2-3 times more expensive than the cheapest equivalent on market.

The reverse does not hold, a lot of expensive things are, in fact, unreliable junk. Smartphones come to my mind.

Taking reasonable precautions against predictable problems also counts. Buying a $15 protective cover for a $250 phone will prolong its life significantly (reduces exposure to rain etc.).

You sound so German! :) Are you?

Sure, get the protective cover. But DO NOT but the extended warranty.

but = buy

Pretty often old money is rich because they have it and they don't spend it. They talk like they know which products last, and maybe they do, but you can't copy them very well partly because you don't know which expensive products will last well.

New money is rich because they have a way to get a lot of money fast, and pretty often they spend it fast too.

You need a lot of predictability to depend on things lasting a long time. Like, if you buy a car that will last a long time, you need good insurance in case it gets totaled, and good theft insurance. But automobile theft insurance is likely to be a lot more affordable if you live in a place where there isn't any crime of that sort....

Similarly with lots of things. When I wore a wristwatch I didn't wear a Rolex, I wore an $8 Timex. It would last about a year. Sometimes I could replace the battery myself and get another year or two. I did not want a watch that was worth stealing. I just wanted to know what time it was.

The problem with that theory is that it assumes that poverty could be eliminated if only the poor had good future time orientation. The poor might be better off if they had good future time orientation, but it seems unlikely that that would allow for 0% unemployment or transform all low-paying jobs into high-paying jobs, or flatten the distribution of income.

I am of the opinion that thinking poverty could be eliminated if only the poor had good future time orientation is as faulty as thinking that poverty could be eliminated if only the means of production were owned in common. The only difference is that one way of thinking places the blame on the poor, while the other places the blame on the wealthy.

The Engineer's sensible post does not lend itself to the conclusion that he or others think poverty could be "eliminated" if only the poor had low time-preference. What is demonstrably true is that high-time preference corrolates with poverty: you spend before you earn, you indulge harmful impulses, etc. This puts the debate where it belongs. Otherwise we could eliminate poverty just by giving everybody a check for $20,000 every year. Nobody seriously believes such a thing.

If poverty is "caused" by one thing and only one thing, then fixing that one thing would end poverty. You try, and fail, to make the The Engineer's post subtle, by changing its meaning from future time orientation *causes* poverty to future time orientation *correlates* with poverty. But the Engerineer's post was not subtle. He did not state, or even leave open the possibiltiy, that any other thing "explains" poverty. Nope. It's all future time orientation. Well, that's just silly.

I read his post again. He's right: poor future time orientation explains a lot. He doesn't say it explains everything: there's also physical or financial casualty, government confiscation. There's also choice: some people are monastics; some people just prefer living off the grid.

Other than that, I'm hard-pressed to think of anything besides PFTO.

'But you can’t say things like that in America…'
Or in some sort of mirror America which readers of a paper like the WSJ or viewers of a TV news channel like Fox would never recognize - in that America, things like your comment are said all the time, at least when talking about 'various deviant behaviors of the poor.'

pa, your point is correct; I'd just like to add that I've heard many liberals say the same thing, often in starker terms and often in defense of government programs.

Jeez, who would have ever guessed that urban food retailers were serving the demand of their community of customers.

"Instead, income — and proximity to fast food restaurants — were the strongest factors in food choice."

Fast food restaurant proximity is a chicken and egg problem of causality.

There's a lot of presumption in the study and the comments that eating more fruits and vegetables will in itself solve obesity problems. We don't actually know that. Empirical nutritional studies are all over the map. What we do know is that it only takes less than five extra calories a day -- lost in the noise to even the most disciplined calorie counter -- to go, over the course of several years, from slim to morbidly obese. It's not a matter of moral factors like "discipline" or "time orientation", it's a matter of a slightly out of kilter hormonal system -- a tiny reduction in response to the hunger-satiating signal leptin, for example, can take you in two years from slim to obese. If you try to starve yourself back down to normal weight ("dieting"), your anti-starvation hormones kick in, you eat more, and your hormonal system becomes even more screwed up than it already was.

Of all the factors cited, the decrease in social eating, primarily due to the decline in regular family meals, is the one most likely to cause a hormonal problem. That would by accident also correlate with fruits and vegetable intake, even though the fruits and vegetables are unlikely to make a hormonal difference, because social eating is more likely to involve traditional cooking. The decline in regular family meals may be related to many factors, some of which have been cited, but the main ones that haven't been cited are simply the decline in regular families (especially marked in the inner city) and the rise of odd-houred shifts in service industries (so that even intact families often have too disparate schedules to schedule regular meals together).

Whatever is ultimately causing the slight hormonal deviations that lead to obesity, that problem and related health problems are quite thoroughly biological questions, not economic ones. They will be figured out by hormonal studies long before they are figured out by social science surveys. But I guess if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail...

If you try to starve yourself back down to normal weight (“dieting”), your anti-starvation hormones kick in, you eat more, and your hormonal system becomes even more screwed up than it already was.

This actually may not be true for fat people, at least under all circumstances. For example, obese patients on protein-sparing modified fasts typically do not experience severe hunger. And there was a study back in the '60s in which obese people fed a bland liquid diet ad libitum spontaneously reduced intake to starvation levels. Check out Stephan Guyenet's recent series on the food reward hypothesis.

The upshot is that there's quite a bit of evidence that the hyperpalatability of modern processed foods does play a role in obesity. While naive calorie counting (eating less of the same kinds of foods your normally do) typically leads to hunger and is unlikely to be successful in the long run, substituting lower-reward foods like fruits, vegetables, and meat for hyperpalatable processed foods probably is an effective strategy for fat loss.

That's very interesting. Stephan is pursuing a great idea but it can be improved: It's crucial to make a distinction between two very different kinds of rewards, one of which is good (satiety), one of which is bad (what Stephan is calling "reward" or "palatability", but might be better called "quasi-addiction.")

Commercial food makers, from fast food to frozen food to Starbuck's, and to some extent even those making "diet" foods, have an incentive to minimize satiety (so that we'll buy more of their food per meal) but maximize Stephan's "reward" (to get us quasi-addicted so that we'll go back to the store or restaurant for more).

This being the case, designing a diet is tricky: you want to do the exact opposite of a commercial food maker and maximize satiety while minimizing Stephan's reward.

If you reduce the satiety of your foods along with Stephan's reward, you don't win because you end up eating more per meal.

If you increase satiety while increasing reward, that doesn't lead to any weight loss either.

So the trick is figuring out which foods give the most satiety but the least reward/quasi-addiction. If it turns out that satiety and reward are triggered by the same things, there's basically no solution. But the fact that we are getting more obese suggests that commercial food has discovered quite the opposite of what us dieters want -- namely to minimize satiety while maximizing reward. That being the case, it must also be possible to do the reverse.

The hormonal hunger and hyperpalatability explanations are no doubt a big part of the story. Yet today a lot of people overeat, or eat too often, not because they are really hungry but because they are bored or even depressed. Hunger is an excellent antidote for a lot of other maladies.

It's a lot about social conditioning too. If you are lonely or need a quite spot to read or work, or waste time for that delayed flight it might be easiest to go to a restaurant, bar or a coffee shop. You don't go there because you are hungry or thirsty. It might be a leap forward if we incentivized more communal activities that weren't coupled with food.

What we do know is that it only takes less than five extra calories a day to go, over the course of several years, from slim to morbidly obese.

Does the converse hold true? Do five missing calories take one from morbidly obese to slim?

I challenge any of these fools to give out free, fresh produce in one of these poor areas. Probably only need to do it for 1 day or 1 week, if they're masochists. Then drive around and look in the garbage. You would find lots of day old produce.

Imagine if economists believed that if you raise the price of gasoline, demand will increase. And every time they found a contrary result, they proposed things such as banning walking or bicycling in a three mile zone. These people are fools.

Tyler,

The central idea, that inner cities are food deserts devoid of supermarkets (which you previously reported here: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2007/11/why-are-there-n.html) is a falsehood.

http://www.urbanophile.com/2011/01/25/yes-there-are-grocery-stores-in-detroit-by-james-griffioen/

So if you start with a faulty premise, you are more likely to get faulty conclusions.

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