A voluntary effort by the
world's largest food and beverage companies to remove billions of calories from
the products they sell in the United States to help combat the nation's obesity
epidemic has far exceeded its five-year goal, according to an independent
In May 2010, 16 of the
nation's biggest food and beverage companies, from Coca-Cola Co to Kraft Foods
Group, pledged to remove 1 trillion calories from the US marketplace by 2012
and 1.5 trillion by 2015, compared with a 2007 baseline.
In fact, as of 2012 they
sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories, found an analysis by researchers at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).
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More healthy options
"Reports like this,
and the fact that they exceeded their commitment four-fold, really shows
that you can make progress in giving American families more healthy
options," said Larry Soler, president of the Partnership for a Healthier
America, a non-profit chaired by first lady Michelle Obama. The group was
formed in 2010 to work with the private sector on anti-obesity strategies.
At the time, critics said
the Partnership relied too heavily on the goodwill of the industry and could
not replace the role of tighter regulation on how food is manufactured and
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Such voluntary efforts by
industry "are not a magic bullet", said Jeff Levi, executive director
of Trust for America's Health, a non-profit policy group. "Particularly
with kids, there is a role for regulation" in reducing demand for unhealthy,
Cutting back on junk food
It is not clear yet how the
companies accomplished the dramatic calorie reduction, said UNC public health
researcher Barry Popkin, who led the analysis funded by the Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation, the nation's largest public health philanthropy. Some of the
decline may have come from the recession, as financially-strapped families cut
back on junk food.
When the pledge was
announced, companies said they would substitute lower-calorie products,
re-engineer existing products to cut their calories, and reduce portion size,
such as with the popular 100-calorie packs of cookies and other snacks.
Popkin and his team have
found that beverage companies are producing more drinks that have both sugar
and artificial sweeteners and, therefore, fewer calories than sugar-only drinks.
They are also "shifting advertising to lower-calorie beverages," he
said, as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo both did.
The biggest reduction in
calories sold was to households with young children. "It seems to be
parents who are driving the calorie reductions," Popkin said.
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It is also not clear
whether the reduction can move the needle for more than two-thirds of Americans
who are overweight or obese.
The 6.4 trillion fewer
calories works out to 78 fewer calories per person per day, if spread equally across
the 2012 US population.
By comparison, Americans
consume an average of 300 more calories a day now than in 1985 and 600 more
than in 1970, according to a 2012 report by Trust for America's Health.
Other companies that made
the calorie-reduction pledge are Bumble Bee Foods, Campbell Soup Co, ConAgra
Foods , General Mills, Hillshire Brands, Kellogg Co, Mars, McCormick &
Company, Nestlé USA, Post Foods, the Hershey Company, J.M. Smucker and
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They are part of the
Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a chief-executive-led organization formed
in 2009 that aims to reduce obesity. According to the US Centres for Disease
Control and Prevention, 35.7% of US adults are obese (having a body mass index
above 30, such as 175 pounds on a 5 foot, 4 inch frame). So are 14.9 percent of
children, which is down from 15.2% in 2003.
The 16 companies sold 60.4
trillion calories in 2007, which was 36 percent of total calories in packaged
foods and beverages – cereals, chips, canned soup, juices, sodas, candy and
more – sold that year. In 2012 they sold 54 trillion calories.
To calculate the calories
sold, the UNC researchers combined data on foods and beverages sold (from
grocery-store scanners and other sources) with nutritional information for the
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