As Maryland attempts to aid residents in slimming down, it is turning to some local c-store owners to help introduce healthier food options.
Four convenience store owners in Charles County, Md., are joining the state’s initiative to help obese residents lose weight and make healthier choices by taking part in the Maryland Healthy Stores program, a partnership between the state of Maryland and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Southern Maryland Newspapers Online reported.
The Participating stores are hosting taste-tests and stock shelves with previously unavailable products, such as low-fat foods and drinks, nuts, berries and other healthier options, said Megan Rowan, a senior research coordinator.
Joseph Langley, owner of Joe’s Grocery and Liquor in Pomfret, is one of the four store owners who has been taste-testing low-fat and reduced-sugar versions of customers’ favorite snacks and drinks for a few months. He noted a few shoppers have, in fact, made healthier purchases after a taste comparison—with some opting for 1% milk in place of whole milk.
“But the low-fat cheese hasn’t sold at all,” Langley told the paper. “Everybody down here likes their fat.”
Maryland officials and health experts, meanwhile, insist the state has a role to play in curbing an obesity rate that has grown more than 80% during the past 15 years, according to a recent report from the advocacy group Trust for America’s Health that was released July 7. The report ranked Maryland as the 26th most obese state with an obesity rate of 27.1%. People are considered obese if their body mass index, based on a measure of height and weight, is 30 or more.
And obesity isn’t cheap. Maryland reported that from 1998 to 2000, its annual obesity-related medical expenditures cost an estimated $1.5 billion, $390 million of which was paid by Medicaid.
The Maryland Healthy Stores program began in the state in 2005, and was in place in nine Baltimore stores for six months.
“Our idea is that if you catch people at the point of purchase, at the point of decision-making, it’s a better time to get them to try something new,” said Joel Gittelson, professor at the Hopkins school’s Center for Human Nutrition. He noted early evidence indicates the availability of healthy food and drinks improves the likelihood customers will purchase the products.