Store “Mystery Tour”

Abington Journal, March 16, 2011

Story by Rafael Pimentel, Abington Journal Correspondent, Abington Journal Photos/ Ben Freda

CLARKS SUMMIT – Several third and fourth grade students from the Howard Gardner School answered the question “Where’s the missing energy?”March 2 during their nutritional “Mystery Tour” of Weis Market, 1020 Northern Blvd., Clarks Summit. Students venture into supermarket aisles in search of clues to solve the “Case of the Missing Energy.”

The tour is one of many that Weis plans to run. The program launched September 2010 and 3,000 kids have attended. The tours are free to all groups, such as public, private and parochial school districts, Boy and Girl Scouts, church groups and others.

The idea of the nutritional tours for children started when Karen Buch, Weis Markets director of lifestyle initiatives and a registered dietician, decided to access the “window of opportunity” to teach students. She mentioned that the third and fourth grade age ranges are peak stages at which to teach children.

“I hope for more schools to take advantage of this free service,” Buch said.

She piloted a program with two other dieticians at Weis’ York location in 2008. The program received positive responses from the teachers, according to Buch. She also said that students showed statistical improvement in their nutrition after the program.

The program comes at a crucial time, as the nation has reached a high childhood obesity rate.

abington 3According to the National Center for Disease Control, results from the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), using measured heights and weights, indicate that an estimated 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 years are obese.

According to Buch, childhood obesity is a huge concern and a big part of why the program is in place.

After the success of the pilot program, Buch was able to present the program to the executive team at Weis. They decided it was “the right thing to roll out to the chain” after some redesigning.

“I am really excited about the tours right now. They are really doing what we set out to do when we first started them,” Buch said.

All associates who conduct the tour complete a formalized three-hour training session and are evaluated by a store manager before giving the tour to students in order to maintain validity. The associates are provided with the materials to conduct the tours.

Choosing an associate to conduct the tours is not as simple as picking people from a certain department. Tour guides are selected based on personality, an ability to teach and love for children.

In each tour, the students are recruited as “detectives.” During their detective work, they engage in a number of exercises while learning. All of the activities are hands on, which Buch said was an important aspect of the program.

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“Diet is often amplified and placed under a microscope, but we have to remember to balance out those choices with regular, yet fun physical activity,” said Buch. “Schools have been limiting recess, which cuts into opportunities for physical activity. We do not want to send the wrong message to our children.”

Weis provides downloads at their website for teachers to use in their classes in preparation for the tour, as well as post-tour evaluations.

The children are taught healthy eating habits, with an emphasis on portion size. Buch said that the program also caters to different lifestyles. Students are taught they if they don’t eat meat, they can find alternative sources of proteins such as nuts and beans.

Schools interested in the program should send an e-mail to mystertytours@weismarkets.com or call the Weis Mystery Tours Coordinator at 570.988.3025.

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