by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
[C]ommunity health outcomes haven’t changed significantly, and activists think that they know why. The culprits, they say, are the dollar-discount stores in poor neighborhoods that—or so they claim—drive out supermarkets and sell junk food. Never mind that compelling research suggests a lack of supermarkets isn’t the problem—let alone the popularity of discount stores. …
… The idea that dollar stores are invaders ignores the fact that these retailers are expanding in neighborhoods that want them. And the notion that the stores lower the quality of retailers in an area overlooks how they’ve become popular in prosperous neighborhoods, too. “What’s driving the growth [of dollar stores] is affluent households,” an expert with consumer-research outfit Nielsen Company told the New York Times Magazine, in a story entitled “The Dollar Store Economy,” published before these stores became the latest bête noire of activists.
Recent research undermines the argument that a lack of fresh, healthy food is to blame for unhealthy diets. In a paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, three economists chart grocery purchases in 10,000 households located in former food deserts, where new supermarkets have since opened. They found that people didn’t buy healthier food when they started shopping at a new local supermarket. “We can statistically conclude that the effect on healthy eating from opening new supermarkets was negligible at best,” they wrote. In other words, the food-desert narrative—which suggests that better food choices motivate people to eat better—is fundamentally incorrect. “In the modern economy, stores have become amazingly good at selling us exactly the kinds of things we want to buy,” the researchers write.