Cal­i­for­nia hos­pi­tals take obe­sity fight to su­per­mar­kets

Will what I buy be healthy?

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH -

En­ter a US su­per­mar­ket and the dilemma is all-too com­mon: Will what I buy be healthy? Fat­ten­ing? A sub­sti­tute? That’s when many wish they had a spe­cial­ist at their side. “Shop with Your Doc,” a pro­gram or­ga­nized by a net­work of hos­pi­tals in Cal­i­for­nia, aims to help with that, sta­tion­ing doc­tors and nu­tri­tion­ists in su­per­mar­kets to aid cus­tomers in nav­i­gat­ing food choices in a coun­try where a third of the pop­u­la­tion is obese.

Chih-I Lee, shop­ping in a su­per­mar­ket in the city of Irvine, ad­mits that she has a weak­ness for fizzy soft drinks but as­sures that her three chil­dren do not drink them and they eat all their veg­eta­bles. Sara Foronda wor­ries about di­a­betes, which runs in her fam­ily, and strug­gles to look away from al­lur­ing cook­ies on dis­play. Mike Kee­gan wants to buy or­ganic prod­ucts but some­times they are too ex­pen­sive so he takes home sub­sti­tutes. All are push­ing shop­ping carts at a su­per­mar­ket in the small city of 260,000 res­i­dents lo­cated about 37 miles (60 kilo­me­ters) south­east of Los Angeles.

And sud­denly they cross paths with a white coat-clad woman. She is Monica Do­herty, a nurse spe­cial­ized in fam­ily medicine. “We are ed­u­cat­ing con­sumers on healthy op­tions to help them max­i­mize their health,” said Do­herty, all the while clar­i­fy­ing con­sumers’ mis­con­cep­tions and giv­ing ad­vice in­clud­ing recipes. Sub­sti­tute mashed pota­toes with cau­li­flower puree, for ex­am­ple, or sweet soft drinks with car­bon­ated water, no sugar added, she sug­gested. That is valu­able ad­vice to shop­pers mak­ing their way down aisles crammed with mouth-wa­ter­ing temp­ta­tions, much of it pro­cessed and pack­aged.

Nu­tri­tion train­ing

Obe­sity is an epi­demic in the United States, af­fect­ing 32.6 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, and 36.5 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the US gov­ern­ment. Al­though Cal­i­for­nia has a rel­a­tively lower in­ci­dence, at 24.2 per­cent, Or­ange County, where Irvine is lo­cated, has an alarm­ing rate: six out of 10 adults there are obese. “Obe­sity many times is mul­ti­fac­to­rial, and poor choices in the gro­cery store is one piece of it,” said Richard Afa­ble, the doc­tor who is chief ex­ec­u­tive and pres­i­dent of St. Joseph Hoag Health, in an in­ter­view.

St Joseph Hoag Health has been or­ga­niz­ing these “Shop with Your Doc” days for three years now, and usu­ally holds them dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son when peo­ple tend to throw di­etary cau­tion to the wind. The pro­gram aims to in­di­rectly fight obe­sity by be­ing fo­cused on ed­u­ca­tion, “al­most train­ing in nu­tri­tion,” Afa­ble said.

Sim­i­lar pro­grams have sprung up in other states, such as Ari­zona and Pennsylvania, and some of the ma­jor su­per­mar­ket chains em­ploy nu­tri­tion­ists. At the Irvine su­per­mar­ket, the fight for health­ier eat­ing be­gins at the en­trance, where a smil­ing Ma­rina Sar­wary of­fers to take cus­tomers’ blood pres­sure. And while the cuff tight­ens and the read­ing is reg­is­tered, she of­fers di­etary rec­om­men­da­tions. Do­herty, mean­while, is in the aisles, escorted by Jai Coutra, a pro­gram em­ployee whose job is to hand out com­pli­men­tary bags with brochures and a con­tainer and spoon to help teach healthy eat­ing. “Try­ing to en­cour­age you to look at the bal­ance in your diet: eat­ing whole grain and avoid­ing pro­cessed food, less sugar, tak­ing away the sodium,” he told Foronda in the veg­eta­bles section.

The 40-year-old stay-at home mother, fear­ing di­a­betes, said it was dif­fi­cult to stay away from sweets. “It’s hard be­cause you go up and down the aisle and you see cook­ies and I try to get away from the cook­ies, I get an ap­ple, or yo­gurt with berries,” she said.

Real cost

“They are say­ing ‘eat a lit­tle smarter, lit­tle bit health­ier’ and I’m al­ready there, look­ing at la­bels-be­fore I never used to do that,” said Kee­gan, 56, a com­puter ware­house man­ager. Healthy food is more ex­pen­sive, es­pe­cially in the United States where the gov­ern­ment sub­si­dizes crops like corn and soy­beans, key in­gre­di­ents in junk food. Get­ting peo­ple to eat bet­ter is part of a big so­cioe­co­nomic prob­lem, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts. “We too of­ten con­fuse af­ford­able food with cheap food,” wrote Mark Bittman, a food jour­nal­ist who is a fel­low at the Union of Con­cerned Sci­en­tists, a non­profit sci­ence ad­vo­cacy group, in his blog. The long-term so­lu­tion “starts with mak­ing sure that ev­ery Amer­i­can has enough money to buy good food at its real cost,” said Bittman, a for­mer colum­nist for The New York Times. To do that, he said, would re­quire food pol­icy that en­cour­ages agri­cul­ture at its true cost, help­ing the 14 per­cent of the US work­force whose liveli­hoods de­pend on pro­duc­ing that food.

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