The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Is Obesity the New Norm?

Is Obesity the New Norm?

Dietitian Dialogues

December 23, 2012

Tina Miller, MS RD Meijer Healthy Living Advisor

By now you’re familiar with the unsettling statistics; 68% of American adults and over 30% of children are overweight or obese. But Americans don’t have a fat monopoly. Globally, 500 million people are obese and 1.4 billion are overweight according to WHO citing that obesity related disease is the fifth leading contributor to death worldwide. The business of obesity is huge with bankers like Merrill Lynch devising obesity investment strategies for potential investors, with good reason. The annual cost of obesity-related illness in the U.S. alone is estimated at $190 billion, which accounts for 21% of annual medical spending.

Rather than being “fat and happy” we need to keep in the mind the health and economic costs of obesity and support our customers in their pursuit of a healthy body weight. Consider my take on the three “R’s” of obesity prevention and intervention:

1.    Recognize that a healthy body weight means something different to everyone. As a dietitian I should encourage a normal BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 as a healthy weight goal. But, as a rational person, I realize that for some a normal BMI may be impossible to achieve and can even discourage a person by setting unrealistic goals. Getting a customer who is 80 pounds overweight down to just 40 pounds overweight can be a huge win.

2.    Reach-Out and partner with health promotion agencies and local health experts: Health clubs, insurance providers, Doctor’s offices, state agencies and other health care providers. Show off the resources that you offer to promote healthy eating. For example, Meijer stores use NuVal™ and our team educates local health care providers, doctors and public health educators on the NuVal™ system. The response is overwhelmingly positive and immediately opens the doors for more mutually beneficial partnership opportunities.

3.    Resources are essential. What do you have to offer your customer in-store, online, and via mobile apps to help them achieve their health goals? What branded materials can you share with health care providers for use with their patients?

For your customers, hit them at all pulse points:

a.    Train their brain: Use consistent messages to make healthy eating mindless. My Plate is the perfect visual example – half your plate fruit and vegetables in any and all forms (fresh, frozen, canned, dried and fresh), one-quarter whole grain/starch, and one-quarter lean protein. Wash it all down with low fat dairy.

b.    Before they shop: Provide simple menu and recipe ideas that are healthy and appeal to your customer demographic. While we all love to try something new, remember that most home cooks aren’t chefs and want easy to assemble meals.

c.    In Your Store: Make the shopping experience educational. Teach your customers to use shelf systems such as NuVal™, Guiding Stars, Facts Up Front, and the nutrition facts panel to fill their cart with healthier foods. Demos and tasting stations can be used to de-mystify less common foods like quinoa.

d.    Follow-through at home. Use digital media (web “how to” videos, mobile apps) to help your customers build cooking skills and kitchen confidence at home. 

We are in a unique position to impact the health of our customers, and the nation, by guiding customers with small, simple steps to healthy behavior changes. Emerging food marketing research validates our efforts and encourages us to make health messaging part of our best practices. Retailers are serious about improving customer health and wellness without the need for federal rules and regulations to guide their efforts – evidenced by the increase in numbers of retail dietitians. As retailers continue to step-up health and wellness initiatives, we can be more optimistic about the future health of our nation.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year!

Tina Miller, MS RD, is a healthy living advisor at Meijer and specializes in consumer nutrition education and wellness promotion to the communities in East Michigan and Northern Ohio. Tina can also be heard on local radio with her weekly nutrition spot on the Lucy Ann Lance show on 1290 AM. She is also an Adjunct Professor at Eastern Michigan University in the Dietetics program.

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