Kroger Health has unveiled new research that supports its “Food as Medicine” preventive care approach to bolstering customer health and wellness.
The Kroger Co.’s health services arm said Monday that a Kroger Health-funded study the University of Cincinnati — dubbed Supermarket and Web-based Intervention targeting Nutrition (SuperWIN) — found that promoting a heart-healthy diet via nutrition counseling from a registered dietitian improved diet quality and lowered cardiovascular risk. Kroger’s Food as Medicine platform is designed to help consumers make smarter, more nutritious food choices to foster overall wellness and aid those with chronic health conditions.
“We have always believed in the power of Food as Medicine in managing and preventing disease before it starts,” Kroger Health President Colleen Lindholz said in a statement. “The SuperWIN study provides real world evidence that our dietitians can help customers eat better and live healthier lives through use of technology, education, and shopping tools.”
In a randomized, controlled trial, University of Cincinnati researchers aimed to evaluate dietary intervention among primary care patients who shop at Kroger supermarkets. The independent clinical study involved 267 Kroger shoppers ages 21 to 75 with at least one cardiovascular risk factor (obesity, hypercholesterolemia and/or hypertension) who were willing to follow the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.
Participants were put into three research groups: control, Strategy 1 (six sessions of data-guided purchasing education in store aisles) and Strategy 2 (six store-guided sessions plus stepwise introduction and training on technologies such as online shopping. The result: Dietary intervention within the supermarket boosted the purchase of healthy foods and improved the DASH score, with Strategy 2 providing the biggest score increase.
“Kroger Health is proud of our partnership with the University of Cincinnati and the SuperWIN trial,” according to Bridget Wojciak, director of nutrition for Kroger Health. “We are striving every day to elevate the grocery store as a destination for preventive health care. Our Food as Medicine strategy is a dedicated, educated and personalized approach to eating and enjoying food to prevent illness before it starts, and this study has shown that our strategy works.”
Study results were announced at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session & Expo on April 3 in Washington, D.C. Key findings of the research included the following:
• In-aisle teaching with a Kroger Health registered dietitian substantially raised adherence to a heart-healthy dietary pattern versus traditional nutrition counseling alone.
• Adherence to a heart-healthy diet was further improved when in-aisle education was provided in tandem with instruction on how to use online shopping services and tools, including grocery delivery, the Kroger app and website, and OptUP, Kroger Health’s nutrition rating system.
• Retailers like Kroger are seen as health care destinations. Of recently surveyed consumers, 48% identified their primary food stores as institutions helping them stay healthy.
“SuperWIN is probably the most scientifically rigorous study of a comprehensive healthcare intervention ever conducted with the retail industry,” stated Dylan Steen, M.D., of the Division of Cardiovascular Health and Disease at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “In terms of purchasing data, retailers have been collecting these data for decades. These data are now progressively being linked to nutrition information and thus could be used by dietitians, nurses, pharmacists and physicians to provide the best, individualized guidance to patients.”
Kroger began putting its Food as Medicine platform to the test in 2019 in a pilot that enabled physicians to write “food prescriptions” that patients fill at a local store under the guidance of a Kroger Health nutrition expert. The test included teaching customers to use Kroger’s free OptUP mobile app, rolled out in 2018, which provides shoppers with a score indicating a product’s nutritional and/or health attributes based on nationally recognized dietary guidelines enhanced by Kroger Health dietitians. At the time, Wojciak noted that the food prescription concept arose from the need to ensure the primary care team has input into patients’ diets and the nutritional guidance they receive is clear and easy to follow.
Kroger has since expanded access to nutrition care via its telenutrition program, which went live in May 2020. The free service offers two-way video chat appointments with Kroger Health dietitians nationwide. guidance in selecting and preparing healthy fresh and nonperishable foods.
Overall, Kroger Health encompasses 2,200 pharmacies and 220 clinics in 35 states, serving more than 14 million customers, and fields a team of 22,000 health care professionals, from pharmacists and nurse practitioners to dietitians and technicians.