Californian hospitals take fight with obesity to supermarkets

  • 16 Dec 2016

The "Shop with Your Doc" program in Caifornia's Orange County is designed to prevent increasing rates of obesity in the US.

Although California has a relatively lower obesity rate, compared to the rest of the nation, at 24.2 percent, whereas Orange County has an alarming rate: six out of 10 adults there are obese. ( TRT World and Agencies )

What is the "Shop with Your Doc" program?

At supermarkets in Orange County, doctors and nutritionists are sometimes hard at work. Their mission? To accompany customers as they carry out their shopping — and improve their health.

The "Shop with Your Doc" program is organised by the Hoag Hospitals network in California. It's guides people to make smarter food choices.

"The supermarket has become the place where we make our most important everyday health decisions. We think everyone should be able to make those choices with the help of care providers and health experts they trust," chief executive officer of St. Joseph Hoag Health, Dr. Richard Afable said on their website.

St. Joseph Hoag Health has been organising the "Shop with Your Doc" days for three years now, especially holding them during holiday season when people tend to throw dietary caution to the wind.

Doctors stationed at these supermarkets give recommendations on healthy food and even measure blood pressure for participants. (AFP)

Why is there a need for such a program?

In the United States, many families are often too busy with their work so they don't spend enough time examining food to see what is healthy.

At a preview of the program on Monday, Ariceli Padilla, a busy small business owner told NBC Los Angeles that her family could use such a program to make changes in their diet and that it was very difficult to know what to buy.

"Obesity many times is multifactorial, and poor choices in the grocery store is one piece of it," said Afable.

According to the World Health Organization, 32.6 percent of the population is obese while the US government puts the number at 36.5 percent. The disease has seen an increase especially in the young population.

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

How will it help fight obesity?

The program aims to indirectly fight obesity by being focused on education which Afable describes as "training in nutrition."

The doctors clarify consumers' misconceptions and give advice including recipes.

"We are educating consumers on healthy options to help them maximize their health," said Monica Doherty, a nurse specialising in family medicine.

"We want to help them change habits, and to do so we are targeting the families who have little or no time to actually visit their doctors," Dr. Jason Jilk, who is participating at the events, told NBC Los Angeles.

Nutritionists give valuable advice to shoppers making their way down aisles crammed with mouth-watering temptations. (AFP)

Will it be effective?

Whether or not the program will make a difference and reduce obesity is not yet known. The biggest obstacle for the success of the program is that many American families simply have limited purchasing power.

Healthy food is more expensive, especially in the United States where the government subsidizes crops like corn and soybeans, key ingredients in junk food.

Getting people to eat better is part of a big socioeconomic problem, according to experts.

"We too often confuse affordable food with cheap food," wrote Mark Bittman, a food journalist who is a fellow at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit science advocacy group, in his blog.

The long-term solution "starts with making sure that every American has enough money to buy good food at its real cost," said Bittman.

To do that, he said, would require food policy that encourages agriculture at its true cost, helping the 14 percent of the US workforce whose livelihoods depend on producing that food.

However, this seems easier said than done.