Walmart, the nation’s largest grocer, averages 20 million customers every single day, so their food policies can affect a lot of people. For one thing, researchers have linked part of the rise in obesity to the prevalence of cheaper food, and Walmart is famous for cheaper food.
In fact, Charles Courtemanche of the University of North Carolina and Art Carden of Rhodes College found that for every Walmart Supercenter that opened per 100,000 residents, the average BMI of the local population increased 0.24 units and the obesity rate increased by 2.3 percentage points. Judging by their figures, the proliferation of Walmart Supercenters explains 10.5 percent of the rise in obesity since the late 1980s.
Now Walmart, encouraged by First Lady Michelle Obama, appears to be making an effort in the other direction. They’ve announced a five-year plan to reduce sodium by 25 percent in their grain products, luncheon meats, salad dressings, and frozen entrees. If other grocers follow suit, adults in the US would consume approximately 47 million fewer pounds of sodium every year.
They also plan to reduce added sugars by 10 percent in their dairy items, sauces, and fruit drinks and remove any industrially produced trans fats from all packaged food products.
In addition, they expect to save customers approximately $1 billion per year on fresh fruits and vegetables by streamlining their supply chain. They will also cut prices on “better-for-you” items, such as those with reduced sodium, sugar, or fat. And they intend to build more stores in underserved communities, known as “food deserts,” that don’t have a source of fresh and affordable groceries.