By Sharon Begley
NEW YORK Jan 9 The world's largest food and
beverage companies have far exceeded a five-year goal set in
2010 to fight obesity by removing trillions of calories from
products sold in the United States, according to an independent
evaluation released on Thursday.
In May 2010, 16 of the biggest food and beverage companies,
from Coca-Cola Co to Kraft Foods Group, pledged
to remove 1 trillion calories from the U.S. marketplace by 2012
and 1.5 trillion by 2015, compared with a 2007 baseline. In
fact, as of 2012 they sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories, found an
analysis by researchers at the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill (UNC).
The companies say they accomplished this through changes
ranging from reducing the sugar in chocolate-milk powder to
introducing more ice-cream products with built-in portion
"Reports like this, and the fact that they exceeded their
commitment by four-fold, really shows that you can make progress
in giving American families more healthy options," said Larry
Soler, president of the Partnership for a Healthier America, a
non-profit chaired by first lady Michelle Obama. The group was
formed in 2010 to work with the private sector on anti-obesity
At the time the Partnership was launched, critics said it
relied too heavily on industry good will and called instead for
stricter regulation on food production and marketing.
Even with the companies' success so far in reducing the
calories they sell, some experts still warn that voluntary
efforts by industry "are not a magic bullet," said Jeff Levi,
executive director of Trust for America's Health, a non-profit
policy group. "Particularly with kids, there is a role for
regulation" in reducing demand for unhealthy, high-calorie fare.
It is not clear yet how the companies accomplished the
dramatic reduction, said UNC public health researcher Barry
Popkin, who led the analysis funded by the Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation, the nation's largest public health philanthropy.
Some of the decline may have come from the recession, as
financially-strapped families cut back on junk food.
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 the
popular 100-calorie packs of cookies and other snacks.
Popkin and his team have found that beverage companies are
producing more drinks that have both sugar and artificial
sweeteners and, therefore, fewer calories than sugar-only
drinks. They are also "shifting advertising to lower-calorie
beverages," he said, as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo both did.
The biggest reduction in calories sold was to households
with young children. "It seems to be parents who are driving the
calorie reductions," Popkin said.
Several participating companies made lower-calorie versions
of their popular foods. Last winter, General Mills
introduced 80-calorie Fiber One chocolate cereal (other cereals
in the Fiber One line have 170 to 220 calories, though the
"serving" size is also larger). It has rolled out a 90-calorie
Fiber One brownie, 100-calorie Yoplait Greek yogurt (versus 140
in the original) and 90-calorie Yoplait light (versus 170).
The introductions have been hits with consumers. The
brownies "generated more than $100 million in retail sales in
their first year," said General Mills spokeswoman Kris Patton,
while Yoplait Greek 100 "reached $150 million, making it the
single largest new-product launch for Yoplait in 20 years."
Nestle USA has reduced the sugar content of its Nesquik
chocolate powder more than 25 percent since 2000 and intends to
cut it another 15 to 20 percent this year. Its Stouffer's brand
of meals has less fat, and it now counts more than 30 ice cream
products from its Dreyer's, Haagen-Dazs and other lines which
come in single-serve cups or bars or are otherwise
portion-controlled: when people dig ice cream out of a 48-ounce
tub or even a pint, they consume an average of at least two
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 imbibe.
However, the reduction in calories sold may not yet move the
needle for the more than two-thirds of Americans who are
overweight or obese. The 6.4 trillion fewer calories works out
to 78 fewer calories per person per day, if spread equally
across the 2012 U.S. population. By comparison, Americans
consume an average of 300 more calories a day now than in 1985
and 600 more than in 1970, according to a 2012 report by Trust
for America's Health.
Other companies that made the calorie-reduction pledge are
Bumble Bee Foods, ConAgra Foods, Hillshire Brands
, Kellogg Co, Mars, McCormick & Company,
Post Foods, the Hershey Company, J.M. Smucker
They are part of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a
chief-executive-led organization formed in 2009 that aims to
reduce obesity. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, 35.7 percent of U.S. adults are obese,
with a body mass index above 30, such as 175 pounds on a 5 foot,
4 inch frame. So are 14.9 percent of children, down from 15.2
percent in 2003.
The 16 companies sold 60.4 trillion calories in 2007, which
was 36 percent of total calories in packaged foods and beverages
sold that year including cereals, chips, canned soup, juices,
sodas, candy and more. In 2012 they sold 54 trillion calories.
To calculate calories sold, the UNC researchers combined
data from grocery-store scanners and other sources on foods and
beverages sold with nutritional information for the products.