Major Food Companies Succeed in Lowering Calories in Products

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • There’s some great news today! Many of the prepackaged foods that you find in grocery stores have gone on a diet – they’re packing fewer calories in those containers as part of a national effort to fight obesity.

    The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported that 16 of the leading food and beverage companies in the United States sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories in 2012 than they did in 2007. The findings were part of an independent evaluation funded by the Foundation and conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This reduction exceeded the companies pledge for the year 2015 by more than 400 percent.

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    “It’s extremely encouraging to hear that these leading companies appear to have substantially exceeded their calorie-reduction pledge,” said Dr. James S. Marks, senior vice president and director of the foundation’s Health Group. “They must sustain that reduction, as they’ve pledged to do, and other food companies should follow their lead to give Americans the lower-calorie foods and beverages they want.”

    These companies, which included 40 of the nation’s largest trade associations, non-profit organizations, retailers and food and beverage manufacturers originally met in 2009 and agreed to act together as part of the Healthy Weight Commitment Companies. The goal was to help reduce obesity, especially in children.

    Sixteen of these companies participated in the calorie-reduction pledge, which was announced in 2010. These companies were General Mills Inc., Campbell Soup Co., ConAgra Foods Inc., Kraft Foods Inc., Kellogg Co., Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc., Hershey Co., Bumble Bee Foods LLC, Hillshire Brands (previously Sara Lee Corporation), Mars Inc., McCormick & Company, Nestle USA, Post Foods, J.M. Smucker Company and Unilever.

    Together, these companies produce more than one-third of the calories from all packaged foods and beverages, including cereals, snacks, canned soups and bottled beverages that were sold in the United States in 2007. This group sold 60.4 trillion calories in 2007, which was the baseline year for this study. These companies pledged to remove 1 trillion calories from the marketplace by 2012 and 1.5 trillion by 2015. By 2012, they had reduced the calories in the products they sold to 54 trillion calories, which was a reduction of 78 calories per person in the United States per day.

    In order to reduce the calories in the food products they sold, the companies worked to offer new lower-calorie options, alter existing products so they had fewer calories, and change portion sizes so they could offer more lower-calorie options.

    The evaluation involved using store-based scanner data of food packages, commercial databases and nutrition facts panel in order to calculate how many calories were being sold by the companies. “The companies whose sales we analyzed have a big influence over the foods and beverages almost every American eats and drinks every day,” said Dr. Barry Popkin, the W.R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor in the School of Public Health at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who is leading the evaluation team. “The evaluation system we’ve created will enable to us to determine how changes to what’s sold influences what people consume.” The entire study has not been released yet.

  • Now while that is great news, I think there are more issues to be tackled by these food producers. For instance, I think there should be greater attention placed on reducing sodium content in packaged foods. I used to never look at this panel in packaged foods before but since my 88-year-old father (who lives with me) has high blood pressure, I need to be cognizant of the options. And it’s surprising how many products that are labelled “healthy” or “light/lite” have high sodium levels (in some cases, 20-30 percent of recommended daily allowance). Therefore, I’m really trying to be attuned to looking not only at the percentage of recommended daily allowance listed for sodium, but the actual amount contained in the package. Other issues that need to be reviewed include an analysis of the health benefits (or detriments) of ingredients included in the prepared foods as well as the actual food packaging.

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    But still, the news announced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a big step in the right direction. To all those involved, thank you!

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2014). Major food, beverage companies remove 6.4 trillion calories from U.S. marketplace.

Published On: January 09, 2014