US food companies cut 6.4 trillion calories to fight obesity

2014-01-09 17:20

Some of the largest US food companies have cut more than 6.4 trillion calories from their products as part of a fight against obesity, according to a new study.

The study, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that between 2007 and 2012, the companies reduced their products’ calories by the equivalent of about 78 calories per person per day. The total is more than four times the amount those companies had pledged to cut by next year.

Seventy-eight calories would be about the same as an average cookie or a medium apple, and the US government estimates an average daily diet of about 2 000 calories.

The 2010 pledge taken by 16 companies – including Campbell Soup, Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Hershey – was to cut one trillion calories by 2012 and 1.5 trillion calories by 2015.

The companies are part of an industry coalition of food businesses called the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation that has organised to help reduce obesity. The foundation pledged to reduce the calories as part of an agreement with a group of nonprofit organisations and made the 2010 announcement as part of first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to combat childhood obesity.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation signed on to hold the companies accountable, and that group hired researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to count the calories in almost every single packaged item in the grocery store.

The researchers aren’t yet releasing the entire study, but they said today that the companies have exceeded their own goals by a wide margin.

Dr James Marks, director of the Health Group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said the group is pleased with the results, but the companies “must sustain that reduction, as they’ve pledged to do, and other food companies should follow their lead.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a nonpartisan philanthropic and research organisation that works to improve the nation’s health.

Even though the companies that made the commitment represent most of the nation’s most well-known food companies, they sold only about a third of all packaged food and beverages at the beginning of the study. Missing are many off-label brands sold under the names of retailers, and it is unknown whether those products have changed.

It is also unclear how the reduction in calories translates into consumers’ diets.

Many products now come in lower calorie versions, are baked instead of fried, or sold in miniature as well as larger versions.

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