Obesity Battle: The Role of Supermarkets

Everyone in our industry is talking about the opportunities in health and wellness, but we should be working on programs that focus on the prevention of obesity.

December 18, 2013

Everyone in our industry is talking about the opportunities in health and wellness, but we should be working on programs that focus on the prevention of obesity, which may well be the more serious issue. And I believe this should be our industry’s No. 1 New Year’s Resolution for 2014. 

According to the Food Marketing Institute, the American shopper visits its members’ stores on average 1.6 times per week. Sixty-six percent of Americans are now obese or overweight as are 33% of kids aged 6 to 16. There is no question that some retailers are making great strides in promoting health and wellness, but it may not be enough. FMI reports that 90% of its members are using health and wellness in their marketing.

Weight Watchers celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, and its success has been built not on its diet, but rather the community that surrounds it. A weigh-in is a celebration of success; even those who might lose just a half-pound over a week-long period are cheered and revered. It’s the community that matters; and as supermarketers like to say they are at the center of their community, it’s time to prove it.

Last year, the Oxford English Dictionary included the adjective “obesogenic” to describe an environment where something or some pattern (they use the example of food deserts) is suspected of putting people at risk for obesity. What would a supermarket look like that was designed to be just the opposite? A store where the environment supported weight loss and weight management. That’s not to say that all the SKUs would have to be diet foods; certainly not, a supermarket must offer a wide range. Just as many stores have remodeled to take advantage of the fresh phenomenon by adding more wood cases for produce and photos of farmers, perhaps there could be weight-conscious triggers throughout. Showcasing photos of real shoppers running and exercising together is just one idea.

As more supermarkets continue to add registered retail dietitians to their ranks, we are hearing about the successful results from their store tours, cooking classes, samplings of good-for-you foods and beverages, social media efforts and publicity. As an industry we need to support their efforts; these RDs are not only the “face” of the store to an important shopper, but also are unique to supermarkets (so far) and can offer your stores something that other food retailers are not.

The Southeastern Conference, which is made of 14 research-heavy Southern universities, has announced its 2014 SEC Symposium: Prevention of Obesity: Overcoming a 21st Century Health Challenge. According to the executive director, “Obesity will be discussed with a focus on prevention versus treatment. The holistic approach to obesity prevention through diet, as well as awareness on a community, faith-based, and government level will be addressed.” The learnings from this symposium may well help us to create a new retail environment. Supermarkets are an integral part of people’s lives, so who better to be at the center of the health and wellness community.

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