6.4 trillion calories have been cut out of the American food industry between 2007 and 2012. 16 of the world’s largest name brand food and beverage companies have cut calories from their products, reducing daily calorie consumption counts in the U.S by an average of 78 per person, spread equally across the United States population. That is more than four times the amount they pledged to slash by next year. The study was sponsored by the Robert Johnson Wood Foundation, a Princeton, New Jersey based non-partisan research organization that works to improve the health of the American nation, and are the largest public health philanthropic organization devoted exclusively to the health and healthcare of the American people. The federal government estimates the average daily diet in American to consist of 2000 calories, with 78 calories being equivalent to an averaged sized cookie or a medium apple.
The RJWF, which was established by Robert Wood Johnson II of the top grossing family firm Johnson & Johnson upon his death in 1968, has $9.2 billion in assets and generates grants totally $400 million per year. The foundation led by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey who was selected as president and CEO in 2002. The RWJF makes grants to reverse childhood obesity, implement strength in public health practices, develop programs and policies to one day ensure that all Americans have health insurance coverage, and help vulnerable populations by addressing healthcare issues that intersect with social factors such as housing, poverty, HIV/AIDS, and severe mental illness.
Dr. James Marks, director of the Health Group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said the group is pleased with the outcome but the companies “must sustain that reduction, as they’ve pledged to do, and other food industry companies should follow their lead.”
The foundation signed on to hold companies accountable. They hired researchers at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill to scrupulously count calories in almost every single packaged item in grocery stores. They used store-based scanner data, thousands of food and beverages products, commercials databases and nutrition information to calculate the exact number of calories that companies were selling. UNC says the companies exceed their goals by a wide margin.
Even though the companies represent most of the nation’s well-known food companies, the goods included comprised only about a third of packaged food and beverage product in America because of the popularity of generic and store-brand items. It is unknown whether these companies have made any changes to their merchandise.
An industry coalition of food businesses, called the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation teamed up with an assembly of non-profit organizations as part of first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to fight childhood obesity. It is a first-of-its-kind coalition that formed in 2009 and brings together more than 250 retailers, food and beverage manufacturers, insurance companies, trade organizations, non-government organizations, and professional sports organizations.
Larry Soler, president of the Partnership for a Healthier America, a non-profit overseen by the wife of President Barack Obama says that the fact that the goal was superseded four-fold shows that it is entirely possible to provide American families with ongoing, healthier options. The group was established in 2010 to work with the private sector on anti-obesity stratagems, though critics said that the group relied to heavily on industry goodwill, and would benefit from stricter regulation of food production and marketing.
The five-year goal set in May of 2010 pledged that food industry companies would alter portion sizes of name brand products, as well as persuading consumers to eat less. They also said that they would create calorie cut options and reengineer existing products to have fewer calories. Marks says that while companies’ efforts to package smaller servings, for example 100 calorie snack packs and mini cans of sugary drinks contributed to the achievement of the goal, it was the willingness of consumers to become educated and purchase healthier foods that was the main contribution to this achievement. 16 companies, including General Mills, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Hershey, Hillshire Brands, Mars and J.M. Smucker, took the 2010 pledge. The initial goal was to cut 1 trillion calories by 2012 and 1.5 trillion by 2015.
Coca-Cola is “offering low- and no-calorie options for nearly all of our brands,” said Sandy Douglas, president of Coca-Cola North America, and those drinks “now represent nearly one-third of our beverage volume in North America.” Smaller sizes such as 7.5-ounce “mini cans” of Coke, Sprite and other sodas have helped consumers slash their calorie consumption.
General Mills say that their calorie-moderated products have been popular with consumers. Their 90-calorie Fiber One brownies “generated more than $100 million in retail sales in their first year,” said General Mills spokeswoman Kris Patton.
Nestle USA decreased sugar content of its Nesquik chocolate powder more than 25 percent and intends to cut another 15 to 20 percent this year. Other companies introduced more single serve ice-cream products to inspire portion control; noting that when people serve their own ice-cream they consume an average of at least two servings. Another approach to decreasing calories from sugar has been manufacturing products that include both artificial sweeteners as well as sugar, opposed to using the highly caloric carbohydrate as the only method to sweeten beverages. UNC public heath researcher Barry Popkin says some of the decline may have come from the recession, as financially impoverished American families purchase less brand-name snack foods.
Still, a 2012 report by the Trust for American’s Health, a non-profit policy group Americans consume an average of 300 calories per day more than they did in 1985, and an average of 600 more than they did in 1970. The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that 35.7% of adult Americans are overweight, and 14.9% (a percentage that has been cut from 15.2 in 2003) of children fall into the category of having a BMI of more than 30. Even with the brand name companies’ 6.4 trillion calorie victory so far, some experts still advise that voluntary efforts by the food industry to alter the products they sell “are not a magic bullet,” said Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health. “Particularly with kids, there is a role for regulation” in reducing demand for unhealthy, high-calorie fare.”
By Apryl Legeas