Skip navigation
Beyond Weight Control: Hy-Vee Employees 'Begin' Again

Beyond Weight Control: Hy-Vee Employees 'Begin' Again

Hy-VEe's relaunch of Begin is part of a broader effort to lead in health and wellness

What began as a traditional weight loss program at Hy-Vee in 2007 has morphed into an ambitious and comprehensive healthy lifestyle regimen.

 While statistical data on the number of people who have enrolled in the $290, 10-week Begin program, and participant outcomes were not available to SN, there are plenty of anecdotal comments from Hy-Vee executives and registered dietitians since the program’s relaunch in December 2010.

 Helen Eddy, assistant vice president health and wellness at the retailer’s West Des Moines, Iowa, headquarters, noted the program is not just for Hy-Vee customers. Hy-Vee’s insurance benefits pay for employees to take the Begin course once a year. It is also offered as a health option as part of Hy-Vee’s Healthy Lifestyles program that incentivizes employees and their spouses to live a healthy active lifestyle and gives employees an opportunity to earn a $15 per week discount on their insurance premium.

 In a letter to benefit plan participants, Rick Jurgens, who recently announced his retirement as Hy-Vee’s chairman and chief executive officer, said the lifestyle management program has proved successful over the last four years. “Utilization for preventive screenings has increased, hospital admissions are down and we’ve seen a decrease in employees with high risk factors,” he wrote.

After going through the Begin program, “Employees say, ‘I feel great. It has changed my life. This is a lifestyle change that I can do and do it forever.’  They are just thrilled with it. We feel it is a strong program and something that will really help our employees and us in the long term to prevent disease and reduce costs,” commented Eddy. Begin is just one of many ongoing health initiatives that Hy-Vee pursues.

At the beginning of last year in a promotional video, registered dietitian Amber Kastler urged her Fort Dodge, Iowa, customers who were starting their New Year’s resolutions to consider Begin.

“No prepackaged frozen meals, no magic pills, just learning how to make healthier choices,” she said.

Credit for the revamped program goes to two dietitians — Jodi Schweiger (see right) and her colleague Kimberly Nanninga (see lower left)— who both work at a Hy-Vee store in West Des Moines.

Schweiger said the original program just wasn’t “wowing” customers or meeting their needs. To make a bigger impact on customers’ health, the two devised a program that offered much more than weight loss.

A pivotal element of the new Begin program is the pre- and post-biometric screenings.

It starts with a fingerstick where dietitians can take a participant’s blood sample and have it analyzed within 10 minutes. Hy-Vee uses a Cholestech LDX system to do the analysis that includes total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, triglycerides and fasting blood glucose measurements. Other screening measurements include body mass index (BMI), waist and hip circumference, height, weight, blood
pressure and heart rate.

The dietitians spent months, often working at home after work, to revise the program. They conducted a test pilot, sold the concept to corporate and then kicked the program off with a companywide webinar. While the program name remains the same, new elements go beyond weight to focus on disease prevention and healthy lifestyle changes through weight management and health coaching.

 Begin is taught in a group setting or individual setting. Schweiger ran the program four times this year at the West Des Moines store with an average class size of 15 to 17 people. Besides the group sessions, about 100 or so individuals also completed the program, she said.

First Steps

The program is designed to have significant impact on a participant’s biometrics, weight and lifestyle. In addition to biometric testing, a customer’s health history is reviewed, health goals are set and meal plans distributed.

Begin educates about what goes on the plate.

Even before the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate dietary guidelines icon came out this year, Begin incorporated a plate icon to illustrate portion and nutrient content. Half of the plate is devoted to non-starchy vegetables, and a quarter each to lean protein and whole grain starch. The plate is used in conjunction with food logs with portion and serving suggestions. Food logs are broken down into ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.

“This isn’t traditional food journaling. This is a booklet given with literal plate diagrams to use as a planning and recording tool. They are segmented circled diagrams to set healthy eating habits and build a healthier relationship with food as opposed to calorie counting or weight loss,” explained Janet Macon, a Hy-Vee dietitian in Davenport, Iowa.

A store tour is conducted for Begin shoppers who learn about the NuVal scoring system.

Exercise is another important element of Begin. A trainer is available to help participants achieve their goals.

Half way through Begin, more biometric and body measurements are taken along with a review of food logs and discussion of successes and struggles. 

Rounding out the program is a session on fat and sugar. Participants measure out the amount of sugar and fats in certain foods.

During a session on disease prevention, dietitians delve deeper into biometric numbers seeking improvement through better food choices and nutrient-rich foods to help prevent diseases.

Healthy cooking is taught and a session is devoted to the emotional side of eating.

Participants wrap things up with a final consultation with the dietitian and more biometric screenings to measure outcomes and see what goals have been met and where participants need to improve once the program ends.  

“It’s all about healthy behavioral change and that can be accomplished through so many different aspects of health. That was a motivating factor for us. We thought we could touch customers’ lives and help them in more than weight loss,” Schweiger told SN.

Most everyone is aware that obesity is a serious health issue for the United States and other world populations. Those rates — over a third of adult Americans suffer from obesity — aren’t going down. A recent study by The Lancet, a British medical journal, predicted obesity rates will rise to half the American adult population by 2030.

The consequences of that happening are dire when considering the impact on health and health care costs. It means 6.8 million additional cases of stroke and heart disease; 7.8 million extra cases of diabetes and 539,000 cases of cancer. That translates into an increase of $66 billion in health care costs.

Hy-Vee has taken a leadership role in the industry to help reverse this trend. The company’s health and wellness initiatives are broad, far-reaching and ongoing.

Hy-Vee is an associate member of The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a CEO-led organization dedicated to reducing obesity — especially childhood obesity — by 2015.

The company supports and promotes Live Healthy America’s  100 Day Wellness Challenge, which focuses on education, motivation and personal achievement. 

Hy-Vee is a partner in Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s plan to make the state the healthiest in the nation by 2016. Iowa, with obesity rates at 28.4% of the population, is currently ranked 19th to all other states by the 2010 overall Well-Being Index.

“Hy-Vee works within the [food retailing] industry to share what they’ve learned in the health and wellness space with others. They believe the supermarket industry should own health and wellness by delivering good solutions for their shoppers,” said Cathy Polley, vice president of health and wellness for the Food Marketing Institute, Arlington, Va.  

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.