The impact of 6.4 trillion fewer calories on the nation’s waistline is not insignificant.
A calorie reduction of that size was reported last year by a group of 16 top food and beverage companies, compared to sales in 2007, according to analysis from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a non-profit devoted solely to the nation’s health.
The 6.4 trillion calorie decline translates into a reduction of 78 calories for each U.S. adult each day – the caloric equivalent of nearly 5 teaspoons of sugar.
That could translate into 8 pounds of lost weight during a year, if people don’t compensate by eating more or becoming more sedentary, according to Rachel Johnson, PhD, MPH, RD, chair of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee and professor of nutrition and medicine at the University of Vermont in Burlington.
In 2010, the group of food manufacturers pledged to remove a trillion calories from the marketplace by 2012 and 1.5 trillion by 2015, as part of their participation in the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation.
RWJF found the companies exceeded their 2015 pledge by more than 400 percent.
Participating companies sold 60.4 trillion calories in 2007 and 54 trillion calories in 2012.
Together the 16 companies produce 36 percent of the calories from all packaged foods and beverages, including cereals, snacks, canned soups and bottled beverages.
“The companies whose sales we analyzed have a big influence over the foods and beverages almost every American eats and drinks every day,” said Barry Popkin, PhD, the W.R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor in the School of Public Health at UNC, who is leading the evaluation team.
Before the results were announced, the companies said they would develop new, lower-calorie options, change existing products so that they had fewer calories and change portion sizes to introduce more lower-calorie packaging.
The pledge was made as part of an effort by the nation’s largest retailers, non-profit organizations, food and beverage manufacturers and trade associations to help reduce obesity, 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 improved reputations.
“Making the shift from traditional items to lower-calorie ones is not just the right thing for customers, it’s the right thing for these companies’ bottom lines,” said C. Tracy Orleans, PhD, senior scientist at RWJF. “The next big question is how these changes to what’s available on store shelves actually impact the health of children and families.”
This is the first effort to track all the calories sold by major companies in the American marketplace.
“The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation has taken action to successfully reduce calories available to consumers, providing a positive example of the influence that industry can have by working together,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association in a written statement. “This positive step forward also represents a call to action to all of us, to act on our own behalf by becoming more aware of the relationship between the foods and beverages we choose and our long-term health. We also call on the remainder of the food and beverage industry, which represents the other 64 percent of this market, to follow suit and do what’s right for their consumers.”
The 16 companies committed to the HWCF calorie-reduction pledge include:
• Bumble Bee Foods
• Campbell Soup
• ConAgra Foods (includes Ralston Foods)
• General Mills
• Hillshire Brands (previously Sara Lee)
• J.M. Smucker
• Kraft Foods Group/Mondelez
• McCormick & Company
• Nestlé USA
• Post Foods
Chalkboard photo courtesy of Alexson Calahan