As a leader in obesity that’s frequently accused of wage violations, Walmart doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to contributing to a happier, healthier America. They’re trying to change, though–if only because it might be better for business–by carrying more local produce, filling in food deserts, and now, labeling select food options as “Great For You,” to help consumers make smarter choices. Walmart, I want to believe. I really, really do. But you’re not making it easy.
According to Reuters, the “Great For You” label is a carefully-vetted, savvy label–which is hopeful! Unlike the highly-misleading “Smart Choices” label or PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi‘s claim that soda and chips are “fine for you,“ the “Great For You” actually has had some research put into it. Brown rice, for example, gets the label, while white rice does not.
But some of the choices are questionable, and that’s where my belief in Walmart starts to wane. Skim milk, for example, is given a label, while 2%, which arguably may actually be a more nutritious pick if you’re reaching for dairy. So are canned veggies, which may contain BPA. So are eggs, which can ostensibly be a good source of protein, assuming they’re prepared in a way that doesn’t involve bacon fat and butter. A label is a good start, but…there’s just more to it than putting a sticker on something and calling it healthy.
And yet, Walmart is, in some way, doing a good deed for the average American, by providing some healthy food in places where there is none. Across the country, large swaths of the region are devoid of fresh produce, whole grains, and inexpensive, healthy proteins. People in both urban and rural areas are stuck getting groceries at bodegas, and convenience stores, where there’s nary a healthy item on the shelf.
Which means that many people in those regions not only don’t have access to healthy food, they also wouldn’t know healthy food if it was staring them in the eye. A label, then–if it really is telling the truth, which Walmart’s seems mostly to be doing–can help parents and kids make sound decisions about what to purchase.
But it’s a bit like the “teach a man to fish” proverb. You can guide shoppers toward healthier options, but you can’t make them prepare them properly. And guiding isn’t the same as educating. If Walmart shoppers learn to look for the labels, but then, say, eat their brown rice with fatty ground beef and gravy and assume they’re doing the right thing, is that really better?
Additionally, the labels will only be on Walmart’s own products–not anything else in the store–which doesn’t really help shoppers decide between a brand-name, and the house-brand, as far as nutrition is concerned.
That Walmart is even attempting–for whatever reason, but probably so that they can profit off the pushback against obesity–to get itself on a more healthy kick is something to encourage, because really, any change toward health in this country is positive. And if the label really does guide some families and individuals toward whole grains and fresh produce, then it’s doing everyone a solid.
But I’m not quite ready to give the superstore a standing ovation just yet.