Wellmont, Food City Partner To Create Shopping Tours To Encourage Healthy Eating

With the region facing high rates of diabetes, Wellmont Health System and Food City are pooling their resources to help residents make healthy choices at the grocery store.

Certified diabetes educators and registered dietitians with Wellmont Diabetes Treatment Centers and Food City now provide tours of Tri-Cities area Food City locations that inform people about which items to select from the shelves. These free tours, held from 10 a.m.-noon once a month, include valuable education that helps people evaluate their shopping patterns and opportunities to revise them for optimal health.

Wellmont and Food City leaders shined the spotlight on this new program during a news conference Thursday, Nov. 14, at the Food City on Eastman Road.

"Small revisions in diet can dramatically reduce people's risk for diabetes or help them appropriately manage it if they have been diagnosed," said Jim Perkins, director of the Diabetes Treatment Centers. "By providing life-changing information, this innovative joint venture will help us make a serious dent in a disease that contributes to so many health conditions."

These include heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and blindness in addition to the potential for limb amputation. Unfortunately, these outcomes are a realistic possibility for many people because diabetes is common in this region.

Tennessee is fifth highest in the nation in prevalence of diabetes, and Sullivan County is among the top five counties in the state. Virginia is the 23rd highest in the nation, but the Lenowisco Health District has one of the highest rates in the commonwealth.

Food City is acutely aware of these numbers and recognizes the importance of partnering with the Diabetes Treatment Centers to share information about the way healthy food selection can improve a person's quality of life.

"When it comes to diabetes, there is a critical need for nutrition education and guidance when grocery shopping," said Audrey Kessler, Food City's registered dietitian. "By teaming up with Wellmont, Food City can help our family of customers with diabetes more confidently manage their condition."

Lori Hamilton, Food City's director of healthy initiatives, said this program is making a positive difference in the region.

"Healthy eating starts at the grocery store," Hamilton said. "We want to empower customers to take control of their lives by making informed food choices when they shop in our stores. The shopping tours achieve this by letting our customers see firsthand how the food they purchase and consume can impact their lives."

Anyone can participate in the tours, even if he or she does not have diabetes.

Carol Carter, a certified diabetes educator and registered dietitian at the Diabetes Treatment Centers, said each tour is divided into three components. It starts with a 30-minute classroom discussion in which participants learn about the basics of diabetes and management of the disease. They also complete a survey in which they share their food-buying habits.

Then, it's on to the aisle-by-aisle tour for the next hour, where Carter or one of her colleagues shares how various foods fit into the desired mix of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy products in a person's diet. Also on the agenda is the NuVal Nutritional Scoring System offered at Food City.

"One of our topics is about healthy eating on a budget," Carter said. "So many people think healthy food is expensive, but that is not necessarily the case. If people understand it's about portion control, buying certain foods during the right season, purchasing items in bulk and utilizing proper storage, the price can be manageable."

Among the topics that come up during the tour are the value of whole grains, lean foods, protein sources and low-fat dairy products; the importance of calcium; the health benefits of a high-fiber diet and frozen vegetables; and the need to limit sodium intake and concentrated sweets.

After participants finish visiting the aisles, they return to the classroom to discuss whether the information they learned will alter what they buy.

Denny DeNarvaez, Wellmont's president and CEO, said the shopping tours align perfectly with Wellmont LiveWell, a free community health transformation initiative that was launched in July. It's a collaborative effort to encourage those who live and work in the region to commit to important habits such as regular exercise, healthy diets and maintaining proper blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Food City is one of the region's prominent companies to join this movement to establish a culture of wellness and healthier living.

"The shopping tour program is one of many ways in which people can make one simple change to improve their health," DeNarvaez said. "Our Diabetes Treatment Centers are experts and leaders in educating people about ways to prevent and manage this disease. We're grateful to have Food City, which has a long record of community service, work with our diabetes program to make a difference in people's lives."

Steve Smith, Food City's president and CEO, said it is logical for his stores to participate in this worthwhile endeavor.

"Like Wellmont, we are deeply invested in the well-being of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia residents," Smith said. "We have demonstrated our commitment to healthy living by introducing many helpful programs, such as NuVal. Our company welcomes the opportunity to assist in the battle against diabetes by giving people practical guidance about their food selections that can benefit them greatly long term."

The tours can accommodate about 10 people each month. To participate or for further information, please call the Diabetes Treatment Centers at 423-224-3575. The next tour will be held Tuesday, Dec. 17 from 10 a.m.-noon at the store as 4307 N. Roan St., Johnson City. Other upcoming tours will be Tuesday, Jan. 21, at the store at 1320 Euclid Ave., Bristol, Va., and Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 1205 N. Eastman Road, Kingsport.