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By Sally Smithwick, Health & Wellness Content Contributor

This month, Emily Callahan, President of the Association for Retail and Consumer Professionals (ARC), announced a partnership to support the #FoodNotPhones initiative, a growing movement and collaboration of food industry professionals and Americans to observe the first ever National Food Not Phones Day. Along with ARC, a growing number of companies such as Hy-Vee, Acosta, FMI Family Meals Movement and more, have joined the initiative to promote healthy and mindful use of screens and technology. On September 19th, 2023, over 15,000 individuals have already taken the challenge to pause from phones when sharing meals with friends and family.  

“By putting down our phones and engaging in face-to-face conversations, we not only savor the flavors of our meals, but also the special moments that truly matter — the joy of shared experiences, the warmth of laughter, and the magic revealed around our dinner tables. We are excited to inspire a more positive shift towards a present and engaged experience with friends, family, our children and all that we serve,” says Callahan in her recent video appearance addressing this important initiative.  

The Food Not Phones movement, spearheaded by Phil Lempert, SupermarketGuru, was inspired in response to the US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy’s letter this year regarding “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation 2023,” a public statement and advisory on the health implications of social isolation. In fact, data from prior years even before the pandemic cut us off from going to work or school, dining in restaurants, going to the movies, traveling, and more, showed that one in two adults called themselves lonely. And the science now shows that lacking social connection can increase the risk for premature death as much as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. In addition, the public letter stated that poor or insufficient social connection is associated with increased risk of disease, including a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% risk of stroke. Furthermore, it is associated with increased risk for anxiety, depression and dementia and may increase the susceptibility to viruses and respiratory illness.  

In April of 2023, a study reported by zippia.com showed that the average American spends 5 hours and 24 minutes a day on their mobile device and checks their device an average of 96 times per day, or once every ten minutes. And when it comes to all forms of technology, the Surgeon General’s report stated Americans spend an average of six hours per day on digital media, and one-in-three US adults 18 and over report that they are online “almost constantly.”  

While we know that technology has many benefits to society which include opportunities for connection, the Surgeon General also cites examples of where it can be harmful, including technology that displaces in-person engagement, monopolizes our attention, reduces the quality of interactions, and even diminishes our self-esteem. “This can lead to greater loneliness, fear of missing out, conflict, and reduced social connection. For example, frequent phone use during face-to-face interactions between parents and children, and between family and friends, increased distraction, reduced conversation quality, and lowered self-reported enjoyment of time spent together in-person,” states the advisory.  

Over the years within the Retail Dietitian Business Alliance community, we have celebrated the positive impact RDs make by offering the tools shoppers need to approach family meals with health and wellness in mind. In fact, that is why last year we hosted an RD-led, highly attended webinar on this very topic with the goal of providing attendees fresh ideas to address the challenges consumers currently have around shopping for, planning and preparing family meals. Additionally, we have been proud supporters of our RDBA collaboration with FMI’s Family Meals Movement and the research and strategies they have provided to assist retail RDs. Check out their fantastic resources and family recipes from retail dietitians here.  

“More than 35 years of research and thousands of studies from around the globe document that family meals (no matter how you define “family”) are advantageous for both physical and mental health. Beyond these benefits, it has been shown time and again that family meals improve family functioning – family connectedness, communication, expressiveness, and problem-solving,” says David Fikes, Executive Director of the FMI Foundation and Creators and Stewards of The Family Meals Movement.  
 
The Food Not Phones movement is a great opportunity to connect with your shoppers, support family meal planning, and bring more joy and community to the preparing and sharing food together.  Join us by visiting the FoodNotPhones website, and as always we would love to hear from you on how you and your retailer are creating strategies and programs that support the health and wellness of shoppers and their families.  
 
If you would like to get involved with Food Not Phones from a corporate level, please contact us for more information. 

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