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SLIM DOWN SHOWDOWN: Improving the Health and Wellness of Texans

SLIM DOWN SHOWDOWN: Improving the Health and Wellness of Texans

Dietitian Dialogues

January 30, 2011

Last year, 2010, HEB Grocery Company decided to form a Health and Wellness Initiative committee with the mission to improve the health of all Texans including our employees (“Partners”). The committee included senior leaders from human resources, benefits, partner education, partner communication, risk management, pharmacy, product development, store operations, advertising, consumer insight, sensory research and nutrition. Our goal was to focus on one topic: obesity. We chose obesity because it is the number one factor which contributes to the major diseases in Texas: diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Our committee met on a monthly basis, and each of us was asked to come up with a proposal on how we could best attack the obesity problem in Texas. From these individually crafted proposals we decided to start with the education of our Partners. We felt that educated Partners could affect the way we service our customers. Seventy-two percent of our Partners fall into the overweight and obese categories.

We decided to sponsor a weight loss contest for our Partners called “The Slim Down Showdown” with a prize of $10,000 to the winner. We asked Partners interested in changing their lifestyle to improve their overall health and wellness to apply with a video or a letter and a picture. Three hundred and fifty Partners applied, and 15 Partners representing all ages, regions and ethnic backgrounds (8 women and 7 men) were chosen. The “Slim Down Showdown” started on October 1st and ended 12 weeks later on December 16.

The contest started with a seven day “Fit Camp” at a local resort hotel. Each of the contestants was evaluated by registered dietitians certified in weight management, fitness experts, counselors and doctors. The days started very early and ended late each evening with swimming and yoga.      

My job as the nutrition and culinary dietitian was to develop a four week menu cycle with over 120 healthy recipes including the portion size, nutrition facts and diabetic exchanges for each. I taught the healthy cooking classes for breakfast, lunch, supper and snack recipes. I worked with the hotel chef so that we could insure that all meals were prepared according to the recipes and were plated and served in the most attractive manor possible. The diets were tailored for each contestant to fit their individual caloric and exercise requirements.

After the “Boot Camp” each contestant encouraged his or her fellow Partners to join their support team and participate in their diet and exercise program. The contestants post their videos, stories and accomplishments on our Partner Intranet Blog. So far, 7,800 Partners have joined the contestants in the quest to lose weight and improve their health and wellness. 

We have seen many wonderful examples of the ripple effect on our Partners and our customers. The customers notice their favorite HEB Partners are looking great and ask them what is going on. The Partners get to interact with the customers on the diet and exercise plan and encourage them to do the same.

We are already planning our second “Slim Down Showdown” for 2011 and agree that the education of our Partners will go a long way to make a positive difference in the health of all Texans.  

Rosalind V. Benner, RD, LD is the Own Brand Product Development Dietitian/Culinary Specialist for HEB Grocery Company. She has spent 43 years as a registered dietitian, with 13 of those at her present job where she does test cooking, develops recipes and writes cooking and heating instructions for all of HEB Own Brand products. Benner also works with American Diabetes Association and Texas Diabetes Institute in community outreach projects sponsored by HEB.

As a nutritionist working for a supermarket, you have a unique outlook on how retailers are increasing health awareness at the store level and the kind of questions that shoppers ask. Each month, we'll be featuring a guest column, written by a nutritionist, that communicates this point of view on a variety of topics. And we want to hear from you. If you are a supermarket nutritionist interested in sharing your perspective and insights, we would love to help you share your thoughts! Please contact Allison Bloom at