The escalating rate of childhood obesity is getting more attention from the White House — and retailers
When she heard about the new national effort to combat childhood obesity, Connie Gardner immediately assembled a packet describing Project 18 and sent it to first lady Michelle Obama.
“We would like the first lady to know that we are doing something about childhood obesity right here in Indiana,” said Gardner, Marsh Supermarkets' senior director of community relations.
The 92-store retailer has teamed with Peyton Manning, quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts football team, The Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St. Vincent and Ball State University on Project 18, a campaign covering diet, exercise and education in Marsh stores, public schools and at home.
Named for Manning's jersey number, Project 18 highlights healthful food products that meet nutritional criteria. “Project 18” stickers appear on more than 600 items in Marsh stores.
“Parents can walk down any aisle and easily pick out healthy items for their children,” she said.
Sales of Project 18 products have increased since the shelf tags went up in October 2009, according to Gardner. She declined to elaborate.
The program has been so successful that what was originally planned as an 18-week pilot will now run indefinitely.
“Our program is unique because it's sponsored and supported by Peyton Manning, who's a great role model for children,” she said.
Project 18 taps into what's become a hot government issue. Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled. Today, nearly one in three children is overweight or obese.
On Feb. 9, Michelle Obama introduced a national effort to combat childhood obesity. The “Let's Move” campaign focuses on what families, communities and the public and private sectors can do to help fight childhood obesity.
The same day the program was introduced, President Obama signed a memorandum establishing a federal task force to tackle childhood obesity.
Consisting of several Cabinet members and others, the task force has 90 days to craft a plan encouraging “optimal coordination” between the federal government and both the private and nonprofit sectors.
As the White House steps up efforts to curb the epidemic, supermarket retailers are addressing it too.
Stop & Shop, Quincy, Mass., has enhanced its elementary school tour program by adding new elements and giving it a new name: “The Stop & Shop Store Explorer Program.”
“We at Stop & Shop are committed to improving the health of children and families in our community and are excited to have teachers and their students visit our stores to learn about healthy eating,” Stop & Shop says in promotional materials.
Stop & Shop uses the U.S. Department of Agriculture's “MyPyramid for Kids” as the basis for the program. During the tours, children in kindergarten through third grade are introduced to the food groups shown on the “MyPyramid for Kids” food guide and encouraged to keep moving with exercises like arm circles and toe touches.
Students are also introduced to the “Healthy Ideas” shelf tags. Exclusive to Stop & Shop, Healthy Ideas tags identify items that meet criteria for nutritional value. The symbol is on more than 5,000 items throughout the store, including nearly all the fruits and vegetables in the produce department.
Last year, 25,000 children participated in “Be a Smart Shopper,” a nutrition program geared to kids at Lowes Foods, Winston-Salem, N.C.
The program educates children ages 4 to 12 about good nutrition and leading a healthy lifestyle. Children learn about and sample healthy food and beverage choices.
“Our community program teaches nutrition and healthy lifestyle behaviors to children who are forming very important habits for their lives,” Lowes Foods' nutritionist Cindy Siler said in a statement. “We are proud to be part of the solution to the childhood obesity problem.”
The program is so highly regarded that it received the North Carolina 5-A-Day State Excellence Award, which recognizes organizations that promote a diet rich in fruits in vegetables, including five or more daily servings of produce to achieve or maintain good health.
The theme of this year's tours is “Smart Shopping for a Healthy Heart,” which promotes foods that are lower in animal fat and higher in fiber. Such foods are packed with nutrients for energy and growth, rather than too much salt, sugar, saturated fats, artificial colors and flavors.
Children also learn the importance of eating fruits and vegetables each day, starting the day with a healthy breakfast, estimating appropriate portion sizes, choosing whole grains and healthy fats, and planning meals using the “My Pyramid for Kids.” Healthy lifestyle behaviors such as drinking plenty of water and enjoying fun exercise every day are also taught during the tour.
Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich., ties in kids and health and wellness in several ways, including its “Ask the Dietitian” online service where customers can write in and ask health-related questions. The retailer also provides healthy recipes, nutritional tips and several other helpful tools online.
Spartan dietitian Heather Leets works closely with its pharmacies' “health and wellness” calendar.
Each month, she ties in a healthy message and recipes geared toward the pharmacy's theme. When pharmacy customers come in to pick up a prescription, they can also get a coupon booklet that has nutritional information and recipes.
In other areas, Spartan promotes “Meals Made Easy,” a program that identifies meals that are healthy, convenient and affordable.
“We choose items that are on sale in the stores that week and create meals that are not only healthier but also convenient and easier on the pocketbook,” Leets told SN.
To help consumers in-store, Spartan recently launched the “Nutrition Guide” program, in which color-coded shelf tags identify foods “at a glance” that are low-fat, low-sodium, high-fiber, gluten-free, sugar-free and low-calorie.
“Prevention is the best medicine,” Leets said. “It can play a large role in cutting back on future hospital visits, prescription and even insurance cost.”
Manufacturers are doing their part, too. Consumer packaged goods companies have reformulated more than 10,000 products over the last few years to reduce or remove saturated fats, trans fats, calories, sugar and sodium, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Washington.
Pamela Bailey, GMA's president and chief executive officer, is a board member of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a new group of retailers and manufacturers committed to reducing obesity — specifically childhood obesity — by 2015.
Members have committed to reformulate products to make them healthier. They also pledge to make other healthy changes, like launching smaller portions; redesigning packaging and labeling; and placing calorie information on the front of products; among other steps.
This April, the HWCF plans to announce an educational campaign targeting mothers and teachers. It also plans to launch a workplace wellness portal for small and medium-sized companies.
The HWCF placed an ad in the Washington Post last month in support of the new national effort targeting childhood obesity.
“We applaud the first lady embracing obesity as a primary issue,” HWCF Executive Director Lisa Gable told SN. “We believe her leadership will bring the attention necessary to solve this problem.”
In other manufacturer news, Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo and other members of the American Beverage Association, Washington, which represents marketers of carbonated soft drinks and other nonalcoholic beverages, have voluntarily committed to put calorie information on the front of all cans, bottles, vending and fountain machines within two years.
On soda cans and bottles, the label will reflect total calories per container of packages 20 ounces or less. For cans and bottles larger than 20 ounces, calories per 12-ounce serving size will be noted.
For vending machines, total calorie counts for the entire container will be displayed on the beverage selection buttons. Calorie counts will also be shown prominently on fountain beverage machines.