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'Thinking outside the box'

DeCA dietitian to provide healthier choices to commissary patrons

FORT LEE, Va. (June 18, 2015) – Health and wellness has a new champion at the Defense Commissary Agency with a new dietitian on board.

Deborah Harris, a registered dietitian with DeCA since mid-April, said her mission is to work with both the agency's sales and store operations personnel to help in providing healthier choices for commissary patrons.

"My goal is to work the whole gamut of public health to try and promote behavioral change – that's my passion," said Harris, who is assigned to DeCA's Shopper Insights division and works with them to help improve the agency's focus on its patrons. "So I'm developing strategies for our customers that make the healthy choice an easier choice or perhaps even the default choice.

"One thing that makes me a different dietitian is I don't want to tell people what they cannot eat, but I do want them to be knowledgeable about what it is they're eating."

As the DeCA dietitian, Harris wants to engage commissary patrons with nutrition and health and well-being messages through DeCA's various communications channels such as www.commissaries.com, Facebook, Twitter and other social media and eventually a signature blog.

One of her first initiatives is a segment called "Thinking Outside the Box" embedded on the commissary sales flyer found on commissaries.com, where Harris takes the items on promotion and offers a cost-effective, time-saving, healthy meal idea.

"When it comes to food, the commissary is a significant presence on a military installation, and we want our patrons to know they can come to our stores for the products that support their healthier lifestyles," said Rogers Campbell, DeCA's executive director of Sales, Marketing and Policy. "As our dietitian, Ms. Harris will help us reinforce that message and further engage our patrons with ideas to make their meal choices even healthier."

Harris says she is excited to be interacting with the military community, a place she admits to being quite comfortable. Growing up, she was a Navy "brat" whose late father was a career Navy noncommissioned officer who served in Vietnam. Harris is also a former Army first lieutenant, who served on active duty for four years, first as a dietetic intern at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and later as a dietitian at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

As a certified diabetes educator and maternal child health specialist, Harris says she is sensitive to the challenges today's families face with childhood obesity and other health-related issues.

"The prevalence of diabetes is so high in America's population," she said, "and I am dedicated to decrease the risk by focusing on obesity prevention and nutrient dense food – but doing so in a manner that is maintainable with healthy habit adoption that folks want to do because they feel they can and not because they have to."

Harris has 12 years of experience in public health programming, integration, evaluation, and policy development in the government, nonprofit and private sectors.

She came to DeCA from the Michigan Fitness Foundation in Lansing, where she served as the director of network programs and a public health specialist for the SNAP-Ed program. This program promotes healthy eating in low-income communities. At the Foundation, Harris served as the point person for promoting policy, systems and environmental initiatives that supported health behavior change. She also focused on health disparities, and part of her work at the Foundation involved coordinating nutrition education and obesity prevention efforts across Michigan for more than 800 schools, 10 health districts and various community and faith-based organizations.

Harris earned a Bachelor of Science degree in dietetics from Western Michigan University at Kalamazoo in 1993, and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2000.

About DeCA: The Defense Commissary Agency operates a worldwide chain of commissaries providing groceries to military personnel, retirees and their families in a safe and secure shopping environment. Commissaries provide a military benefit and make no profit on the sale of merchandise. Authorized patrons save thousands of dollars annually on their purchases compared to commercial prices when shopping regularly at a commissary. The discounted prices include a 5-percent surcharge, which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones. A core military family support element, and a valued part of military pay and benefits, commissaries contribute to family readiness, enhance the quality of life for America's military and their families, and help recruit and retain the best and brightest men and women to serve their country.

Media Contact:
Kevin L. Robinson
(804) 734-8000, Ext. 4-8773
kevin.robinson@deca.mil

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