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Giant Adds Wellness Centers

Getting your cholesterol checked can be as simple as going to a Giant supermarket and taking a left at the bakery. Located inside selected Giant pharmacies, the new health centers can, among other things, diagnose food allergies, anemia and prostate cancer. For tests that can be processed at the center (including the cholesterol check), results can be obtained in minutes. When blood has to be drawn from the vein, test results are available in three to seven days. The cost of individual tests runs from $10-$120.

The USWellness-operated health centers are staffed by health professionals, including physician’s assistants, dietitians and registered nurses. However, the health centers are not doctor’s offices. The staff cannot prescribe medications, and test costs are not reimbursed by insurance. Also USWellness (formerly Medica) stresses that services are not intended to diagnose or treat a condition and that consumers are advised to take their results to their personal physician for follow-up.

Beyond the diagnostic tests it offers, USWellness focuses on the lifestyle choices people make that affect health, including exercise, diet and stress management. Rebekah Bowden, a physician's assistant at the Chantilly health center, stressed that programs are both personalized and goal-oriented. For example, a person who is overweight but has healthy cholesterol levels may use a different approach than does a person who has higher cholesterol levels.

Weight-management programs focus on counting calories, increasing exercise and controlling hunger. Following an introductory visit, dieters go for follow-up visits on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis. Goals and problems are discussed. At least once a month, the person's weight is taken.

Perhaps convenience is the greatest advantage of Giant's wellness centers. As Chris Cresswell, co-president and founder of USWellness, put it, “What better place to offer consumers weight management than ... where food choices are made and the average consumer visits 2.2 times per week?”

In Virginia there are wellness centers at Giant supermarkets in Chantilly, Fairfax, Reston and Sterling. Additional health centers are scheduled to open in Alexandria and Manassas. In Maryland there is currently a health center in a Giant supermarket in Gaithersburg. Centers in Bowie and Owings Mill are also planned. By the end of the year, Giant plans to open a total of 40 wellness centers in its stores.