RETAILERS PROMOTE HEART HEALTH

Many large chains across the country joined with cardiovascular health organizations to hold American Heart Month events in their stores last month. The retailers promoted healthy lifestyles by offering nutritional information, blood pressure screenings and advice from in-store dieticians.Among the big companies participating were Albertsons, Boise, Idaho, working with the Heart Truth Road Show; Giant

Many large chains across the country joined with cardiovascular health organizations to hold American Heart Month events in their stores last month. The retailers promoted healthy lifestyles by offering nutritional information, blood pressure screenings and advice from in-store dieticians.

Among the big companies participating were Albertsons, Boise, Idaho, working with the Heart Truth Road Show; Giant Food, Landover, Md., with St. Mary's Medical Center; Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla., with the American Heart Association; and Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., with numerous health-oriented companies.

"We believe that it is very important to inform and educate women about heart disease," said Karianne Cole, spokeswoman, Albertsons. "It's the No. 1 killer of women, and they are the target audience in our company. We want to educate our consumers on how to live healthy lives."

Albertsons sponsored the Heart Truth Road Show, a program designed to promote heart health awareness in women. Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Diego were among the cities visited. Starting last month and running through April, Albertsons is offering in-store brochures and information in conjunction with the show. Customers can also see dieticians and pharmacists who will be on hand to answer questions.

"The supermarket is the one place where the consumer can find that connection between the pharmacy and the food. The whole health picture comes together," said Jim Wisner, president, Wisner Marketing Group, Libertyville, Ill.

February was Winn-Dixie's fifth month of a program in the greater Jacksonville area designed to make people aware of their risk factors for heart disease. Working with Baker-Gilmore Cardiovascular Institute, WJXT Channel 4 Jacksonville and the American Heart Association, Winn-Dixie has been offering free health screenings and information since last September.

The goal of the program is to educate women about simple changes they can make to lower their risk for heart disease and stroke, according to Susan Sundaram, consumer affairs specialist and corporate nutritionist for Winn-Dixie.

"Corporately, we have several health interests. This is one of many," said Sundaram. "Heart health events, as a community outreach program, can inform people that supermarkets are a credible source of information for reference material. And reference material then translates into food available to purchase."

Giant Food partnered with St. Mary's Medical Center and the American Heart Association to hold free blood pressure screenings and provide reading materials to its customers. The chain also hosted an event with cable television chef Paul Dillon at its Yardley, Pa., store.

Wal-Mart also hosted a cardiovascular awareness program to celebrate Heart Health Month. Representatives from Bayer Aspirin, Novartis and Quaker visited Sam's Clubs and Wal-Mart units last month. Customers received free cholesterol and blood pressure screening, tasted heart-healthy foods, and read information on heart disease prevention, management and risk.

"We've absolutely learned that our customers are hungry for information," said Danette Thompson, Wal-Mart spokeswoman. "They are very interested in something that is being demonstrated or sitting out for them to look at and to touch and feel -- from a food demonstration and sampling to a blood pressure screening and demonstration. The screenings took place in the pharmacy area of the store and were accompanied by a self-assessment test to determine risk factors.

Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo., chose last month to eliminate all products from its stores that contain trans fats. These fats have been shown to significantly lower HDL (good) cholesterol and raise LDL (bad) cholesterol, thus increasing the risk for heart disease. They are often found in stick margarine, fast foods, processed foods, fried foods and commercial baked goods.

"We have a saying at our company: 'We read the labels so you don't have to,"' said Mary Mulry, senior director of research, development and standards for Wild Oats. "This allows consumers to come into our stores and know that they are getting healthy products without having to read all the nutrition labels. The consumers seem to be thrilled."

Most of those contacted by SN don't expect the relationship between supermarkets and health issues to end anytime soon. "In 1995, the first of the baby boomers turned 50," said Wisner. "Health issues are everywhere now. Diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular health and cancer are the big issues. As science starts to get the information right, we are all starting to understand it better."