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State of the States

It's reassuring to see the role government is playing in trying to get Americans to eat better, exercise and lose weight. The types of programs federal, state and even local governments are running these days are perfect ways for supermarkets to get involved in showcasing their own healthful products and services. Here are two examples of what I'm talking about:

Five months into their program, the 18,032 participants who've registered for the OKC Million have lost a total of nearly 73,000 pounds. The initiative, open to every single resident of Oklahoma City, Okla., was launched at the end of last year, under the leadership of the city's cheery mayor, Mick Cornett (who has lost more than 35 pounds himself).

The program has several sponsors and partners, the most recent of which is Taco Bell (that's right, home of Mexican fare with names like the Gordita Supreme and the Chalupa). The chain recently introduced its new lower-calorie and low-fat "Fresco" menu, and took advantage of the city-wide effort to promote the nine new items.

What's notable here is that even a fast-food chain has the opportunity (and every right) to get in on the action here. Sure, these new items may not be the most healthful out there, but they represent a better-for-you option for hungry, on-the-go consumers.

Meanwhile, in California, the Network for a Healthy California is launching its 2nd annual Fruit & Veggie Fest throughout the state. The month-long promotion targets low-income families and touts the benefits of produce consumption.

Supermarkets are key players in the festival. One store in the Los Angeles area, Kroger-owned Food 4 Less, will sample fresh fruits and vegetables and conduct healthy shopping store tours. Local school district chefs will show participants different ways to incorporate more produce into their everyday meal plans.

These are the types of activities that can really improve the health of the food industry, too. Partnerships between government, private sector and the community need to be encouraged because they speak with one loud voice. And, these days, the message needs to be clear, since spending food dollars wisely is more important than ever.