PARKERSBURG, W.Va. -- Walmart customer Jamie Shears maneuvered her shopping cart past checkout lanes lined with candy into an aisle lined with apples, grapes and hula hoops. One daughter grabbed a banana, the other a jump rope.
"This is great," Shears said. "They only see healthy things in this line."
"I think it's wonderful, because my kids aren't reaching for chocolate and sugar," customer Brianna Shahan agreed, as her son pulled an applesauce pack off the shelf. "Apples and grapes are all right with me."
Four Parkersburg-area grocery stores and three Walmart stores have replaced chips and candy in one checkout line with fresh and dried fruit, granola bars and other healthy snacks to give customers a choice.
The Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department gave them the idea.
"We went in as a long shot and asked them to try it," said
Health Department staffer Amy Wentz-Berner. "They jumped right on board."
At first, Parkersburg Foodland manager Dave Worst wasn't sure his customers would go for it.
"I am still kind of amazed that it's actually working," Worst said.
"I've been doing this job for 24 years," he said, "and the first day, I was actually shocked at the amount of products we sold in that aisle. The banana chips. The dried fruit. Individual prunes are a real big seller. The kids call them big raisins.
"People are choosing this aisle over other aisles now. It's growing."
The federal Centers for Disease Control is spreading the West Virginia example to other states, said Rebecca Payne, who directs the CDC's Communities Putting Prevention to Work campaign. An Indiana Walmart already is copying the idea, she said.
"The response has been very, very solid from the West Virginia customers," regional Walmart manager Beth Nagle said. "I have asked customers, 'Why are you in this line?' And typically, it's a mom with a child, and they just kind of grin and say, 'Because I really, really like what options there are -- and aren't -- in this checkout.'"
This is the first time Walmart has opened healthy checkout lanes at multiple stores in one location, Payne said. "It's a fine example of the way communities can help make the healthy choice the easy choice."
The CDC hopes to encourage healthier choices for shoppers as the nation staggers under an obesity epidemic, she said. Obese people are much more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease, asthma, arthritis and other chronic diseases. West Virginia ranks first or second in a wide range of chronic conditions, including obesity.
In Parkersburg, Walmart customers pack the 14 candy-lined aisles, but manager Kevin Ohse said the healthy checkout line is holding its own. "Sales of some items have tripled," he said. "We have to restock it several times a day. It's turning out to be something we definitely want to keep doing.