Sixteen of America's largest food and beverage processors in two years have exceeded their five-year goal of removing 1.5 trillion calories from American food. That translates into 78 fewer calories per person in the U.S. each day.
The number-crunching did not come from the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, the coalition of 16 food processors, but from researchers at the University of North Carolina, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation -- both independent from the food processors.
In October 2009, more than 40 of the nation’s largest retailers, non-profit organizations, food & beverage manufacturers and trade associations launched HWCF amidst criticism that processed foods, and especially those aimed at children, were the main cause of the obesity epidemic. Sixteen companies participated in the calorie-reduction pledge, announced in May 2010 as one pillar of the work of HWCF. The pledge was part of an agreement between HWCF and the Partnership for a Healthier America, a non-profit chaired by first lady Michelle Obama and a corollary to her "Let's Move" program.
HWCF's 16 members pledged to remove 1 trillion calories from the marketplace by 2012, and 1.5 trillion by 2015. But the University of North Carolina evaluation found those companies sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories in the U.S. in 2012 than they did in 2007 (established as the baseline year), thus exceeding even their 2015 pledge by more than 400 percent. The full, peer-reviewed study is expected to be published later this year.
"Reports like this, and the fact that they exceeded their commitment by four-fold, really show that you can make progress in giving American families more healthy options," said Larry Soler, president of the Partnership for a Healthier America. The group was formed in 2010 to work with the private sector on anti-obesity strategies.
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 100-calorie packs of cookies and snacks.
“It’s extremely encouraging to hear that these leading companies appear to have substantially exceeded their calorie-reduction pledge,” said James Marks, senior vice president and director of the health group at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “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.”
Together, it was estimated, the 16 companies produced 36 percent of the calories from all packaged foods and beverages, items such as cereals, snacks, canned soups, and bottled beverages, sold in the U.S. in 2007.
The 16 companies involved in the HWCF calorie-reduction pledge are: Bumble Bee Foods LLC, Campbell Soup Co., Coca-Cola Co., ConAgra Foods, General Mills Inc., Hershey Co., Hillshire Brands, J.M. Smucker Co., Kellogg Co., Kraft Foods Group/Mondelez, Mars Inc., McCormick & Co., Nestlé USA, PepsiCo Inc., Post Foods and Unilever.