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At the Dietitian Summit

Put a group of supermarket-based registered dietitians in a room with professionals from the food industry, communications, market research and healthcare… and there is energy! The recent Dietitian Summit, sponsored by Chicago-based Field Trip Factory, created just that.

Yours truly was among those in attendance, and I thought it might be worthwhile to report on the main ideas that emerged from this one-day think tank.

Presentations and discussions centered on topics ranging from the theme of this year’s event — Healthy Eating in Tough Times — to childhood obesity and the impact of community-based learning. Sprinkled throughout was talk on trends, nutrition rating systems and “healthier for you” foods.

What do those three elements have in common? If there was a single thread running throughout everything, it was the idea of the supermarket as a destination for wellness resources — whether food, information or services. It’s a subject I certainly warmed up to as a corporate nutritionist for Giant Eagle. Here are some of the take-home messages:

The childhood obesity issue is impacting not only this but future generations. Policy makers, healthcare providers, community outreach and the schools are part of the solution. Supermarkets are also a resource with influence! After all, we control the food. Along with store tours emphasizing nutrition for children and their caregivers, supermarkets can go a step further, and offer cooking classes (remember we currently have a generation of non-cooks, of all ages) and tools for deciphering a complex food system. Having an RD available is a plus.

The diverse group in Chicago also concluded that health and wellness is more than a fad, though there remain obstacles to building demand for “healthier for you” foods. Trend stats from the Nielsen Company (also in attendance at the conference) indicate growth in some categories like organic, reduced-calorie and natural, while others like lower-sodium and fat-free are down.

Why is this? The real challenge may be making healthy foods more appealing in terms of convenience (think of the choices your store offers in prepared foods), skill level (back to the cooking classes), taste perception (sampling demos in the aisles), and cost (store brands, coupons, value-added choices and comparisons of nutrient quality for investment).

Running throughout the conference was the ongoing question, “How can we improve demand for healthier choices?” After all, the choices are here! Healthy eating at any time is going to require teamwork. The Dietitian Summit is one of those events where getting all the players in a single room is a good start at building a consensus.