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Rouses and Ochsner team up to help consumers make smart dietary choicesochsner-rousesIf you’ve “made groceries” at a Rouses store in the last month or two, you have probably noticed tags jutting out near certain items that advise you on healthy selections to put in your cart. These tags, or “shelf talkers” as they’re known in industry parlance, are just one aspect of a new partnership that unites the New Orleans area’s biggest locally owned supermarket chain with the region’s largest health-care organization, Ochsner Health System.

Rouses and Ochsner have broken ground on a joint initiative called Choose Healthy. The goal is to encourage and educate area residents how to make smart choices in their diets.

“We aim to help our community by making it easier for our customers to understand what eating healthy really means,” Rouses President and CEO Donald Rouse told New Orleans Living. “Lots of people have this abstract goal of living a healthier life, but they get bogged down with all the different ways this goal can take shape. We aim to take some of the guesswork out of choosing healthy foods. It’s one thing to read an article and say to yourself, ‘I’m going to eat better,’ but it’s a whole new world when you’re pushing your cart down an aisle and looking at all these different choices on the shelves.”

For the shelf talkers, Rouses brought in a team from Ochsner to review items aisle by aisle, shelf by shelf, and product by product. Both organizations provided input into the discussion. After Ochsner’s committee of nutritionists and doctors evaluated the items back in their offices, they returned with a list of recommendations for shoppers based on fat, calories and sodium content, and a particular focus was placed on foods that help manage acute conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Hundreds of shelf talkers now line the aisles of Rouses and act as guideposts for shoppers trying to sift through all the products that make bewildering, outsize claims about their healthfulness.

“People have good intentions, but the diet information out there is confusing and sometimes contradictory,” comments Dr. Pat Quinlan, CEO of Ochsner Health System. “What’s more, it’s not available at times when people are making their food choices. Our suspicion is if we can reach people at the moment of decision, we can help them overcome unhealthy eating habits.”

Beyond the shelf talkers, the program also includes a Web site (found at choose-healthy.org), already launched and gradually expanding. So far it contains recipes from Ochsner’s chef Marc Gilberti and Rouses’ chef Nino, grocery lists with healthy eating in mind, and a handful of other resources. Future additions may include a library of articles, customized shopping plans and information about where to find free health screenings in the area.

Indeed, the Choose Healthy program already includes Ochsner-provided health screenings for Rouses workers, as well as in-store education sessions. The idea is that if store employees are educated about healthy-eating issues, they can educate the customers. And eventually, Ochsner’s educational programming will become open to the public. The organizations’ chefs involved in the project have also begun to offer cooking demonstrations for healthy eating, with an eye of course toward Cajun and Creole dishes.

“Louisiana cuisine may not have a reputation for being healthy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be,” says Donald Rouse. “Our chefs are working hard to show everyone that you can live a healthy lifestyle but still enjoy the Louisiana cuisine that we are world famous for. Good for you doesn’t have to mean bad for your taste buds.”

It’s well known that Louisiana tends to rank toward the bottom of most health measurements, including for conditions that can be managed by diet. For example, Louisiana comes in at 47th for obesity and 45th for cardiovascular deaths by percentage of population according to the United Health Foundation’s state rankings. For overall health, the organization ranks our state at, yes, number 50. As organizations with local operations and community-minded missions, both Rouses and Ochsner recognize the need to do what they can to improve the health of their customers and patients.