Spendy grocery stores have skinnier shoppers, UW study finds




Posted on October 18, 2010 at 10:31 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:44 AM

SEATTLE - A new study on grocery store shoppers reveals some interesting statistics about obesity. The shoppers at QFC, Albertsons and Safeway are much heavier than those at Metropolitan Market, Whole Foods, and PCC.

University of Washington researchers say this has less to do with the store and more to do with the clientele who shop there.

Kat Hill is a vegetarian who shops at Whole Foods almost every night. They offer healthier foods.

"They have a lot more produce that is visible, even the bakery the produce is mixed in with the bakery," said Hill.

Steve Julius is faithful Albertson's shopper because it's convenient.

 "Closest one in the neighborhood," said Julius.

UW researchers from the Department of Nutritional Sciences surveyed to 2,000 shoppers in the Seattle metropolitan area. When it came to obesity rates, not all stores are the same.

"Some are clearly more expensive than others and people who went to the expensive supermarkets tended to be slim. And people who went to cheaper supermarkets tended to be heavier," says Dr. Adam Drewnowski, Director of the Nutritional Sciences Department.

The difference is staggering. Out of seven stores, Whole Foods had the lowest obesity rate at four percent. Albertsons the highest at almost 40 percent.

"That is pretty big. Maybe it's the price. They don't buy as much food because it's more expensive," said Amy Yelay, an Albertsons shopper.

"It's not that Safeway and Albertsons don't have apples. They do," said Drewnowski. "Salads? They have them. Low fat milk? They got them."

Drewnowski says it's not the store per se, but the kinds of customers who shop there. Healthier people often have more money, more time and know more about nutrition.

 "Sometimes the healthier foods cost more. So, very often people with fewer resources will say 'the only thing I care about is to make sure my diet is cheap. I really want to get most calories for most money. The only label I look at is the one that says 79 cents,'" said Drewnowski.

Drewnowski says stores can help by putting up more nutrient labeling in the store. And he says shoppers can try sticking to the store's outside aisles, where there is more fresh food and produce and staying away from the processed foods on the center aisles.

To read the full brief on the UW study, click here.