August 21, 2010

Cars And Shopping Carts Are Making Us Fat

And in the "well, duh" category, another study that links driving with obesity. It found that people that walked, biked, and used transit were less likely to be overweight. I think I know why. It has something to do with high capacity shopping carts and convenient consumerism, as well as big cars and cheap oil.

In 1937, Sylvan Nathan Goldman invented the shopping cart. Besides being an inventor, he was also a grocery store owner interested in helping shoppers buy more of his wares. His early shopping cart allowed his customers to load up like never before, and sales increased. Probably waistlines started to increase as well.

Modern shopping carts are different than the initial design, but mostly they are just a lot bigger. The ease of loading up a giant shopping cart must be held largely responsible for increased consumption. Pair that with cars, and you've got unlimited power to haul stuff home. This has proven to be a dangerously effective combo.

People with cars can load them up with cart-loads of groceries, whereas individuals practicing more active transportation alternatives are limited to what they can carry. Aside from the obvious health benefits of active modes of travel, perhaps our unlimited power to haul food home has something to do with our gluttony. And it's not just food. It's all of our consumption that is being aided by cars, cheap oil, and shopping carts.

Stores like Target and Home Depot that use shopping carts have had booming sales, while cart-less stores like J.C. Penny and Sears have seen merchandise being carried out of stores at a slower rate. I would be willing to bet that Europeans use smaller shopping carts, if they are used at all. At least one place has banned shopping carts in order to discourage large grocery orders that could not be carried away.

Walk, ride, and take transit softly, and carry a small basket. It could be the answer to both the obesity epidemic and the problems of convenient consumerism.


  1. I have been afoot since involuntarily giving up my car a couple of weeks ago and I have noticed a few changes in habits...

    First of all, we have to shop nearly everyday to keep up with what is getting used up. We keep a rotating list on the fridge and buy a few items everyday.

    Second, I haven't been able to shop at my favorite grocery stores--they are too far away. So, we have been using the local shops, which is better for our neighborhood but is also quite expensive! Between buying smaller, more portable packages and the higher mark up at the local shops--our food bill is up more than 50%(not including bus and train tickets.)

    Third, grocery shopping is limited to what we can carry for at least .8 miles--the closest grocery store. With the heat wave on top of the distance--no frozen foods, for starters. I find myself leaning toward fresh fruits and veggies, quality flavorful meats(to add flavor to beans and veggies), no canned items, and no bottled water, juice or soda. I still buy flour and make bread because the bakery is too far away for a couple of loaves!

    Walking and biking definitely change purchasing habits!

  2. VicinSea,

    Thank you for sharing your experience with car-less living and how that is shaping your new ways of doing things. Car-free can be hard, but improved public transportation and community planning will allow more of us to make this choice in the future.


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