We reported it before, but it's been confirmed: 16 major food & beverage companies acting together as part of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF) sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories in the U.S. in 2012 than they did in 2007, according to a study published Sept. 17 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
An independent evaluation funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and carried out by researchers at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) confirmed that the companies had not only met their pledges to remove 1 trillion calories from the marketplace by 2012 and 1.5 trillion by 2015, they had already exceeded their 2015 pledge by more than 400 percent.
UNC researchers had to build an unprecedented, thorough picture of the U.S. food system. They compiled data from many public and commercial sources that, for the first time, tracks the flow of foods and beverages that are sold, purchased and consumed by Americans. This allows researchers to identify how different categories of foods and beverages contribute to American’s calorie intake.
The study shows the largest calorie cuts came from sweets and snacks; cereals, granolas and other grain products; fats, oils and dressings; and carbonated soft drinks. The companies participating in the pledge sold 60.4 trillion calories in 2007, the year defined as the baseline measurement for the pledge. In 2012, they sold 54 trillion calories. This 6.4 trillion calorie decline translates into a reduction of 78 calories per person in the U.S. per day.
“We’re now able to track how many calories families are buying, the source of those calories, and how both are changing over time,” said Barry Popkin, the W.R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor in the School of Public Health at UNC, who is leading the evaluation team. “This new source of big data on food production and purchasing opens unprecedented opportunities to collaborate with industry leaders to find far-reaching solutions that benefit both the health of Americans and companies’ bottom line.”
Future studies conducted by the UNC team and funded by RWJF will show how HWCF’s calorie-reduction pledge has affected trends related to packaged foods based on race, ethnicity, income and age. Upcoming phases of this evaluation also will link food purchases to dietary intake among children ages 2-18 to examine how changes by the food industry may affect kids’ diets.
The original 16 members of HWCF were Bumble Bee Foods, Campbell Soup Co., Coca-Cola, ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Hershey, J.M. Smucker Co., Kellogg, Kraft Foods, Mars, McCormick & Co., Nestle USA, PepsiCo, Post Foods/Ralston Foods LLC, Sara Lee Corp. and Unilever USA.
Their commitment was made to the Partnership for a Healthier America, an independent, non-partisan organization that is working to develop specific goals of the Let's Move! campaign to curb child obesity – and that effort is addressing children's sedentary lifestyles. That campaign was started in 2010 by First Lady Michelle Obama, who is the honorary chair of Partnership for a Healthier America.
“Having 16 companies make individual changes that collectively cut 6.4 trillion calories is beyond impressive,” said James Marks, RWJF senior vice president. “Imagine the impact if other industry leaders stepped up to make similar — or bigger — commitments to make and market lower-calorie, healthier products for families.”
HWCF launched in October 2009 to help reduce obesity in America, especially childhood obesity, by 2015.
Other research has shown that, between 2007 and 2011, better-for-you, lower-calorie foods and beverages also drove financial performance for many of these same companies. Companies with a higher percentage of their sales coming from such products recorded stronger sales growth, higher operating profits, superior shareholder returns and better company reputations. “These findings indicate growing consumer demand for healthier food and beverage products,” said C. Tracy Orleans, RWJF senior scientist.