Food, beverage companies cut 6.4 trillion calories from products in past five years: Report

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Food and beverage companies are trying to help Americans fight obesity by cutting more than 6 trillion calories from their products over a five-year span, an independent review discovered.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said on Thursday that 16 of the top food and beverage manufacturers sold 54 trillion calories in 2012, compared to 60.4 trillion calories in 2007. RWJF is a non-profit organization dedicated to health and health care issues in the United States.

“It’s extremely encouraging to hear that these leading companies appear to have substantially exceeded their calorie-reduction pledge,” Dr. James S. Marks, senior vice president and director of the Health Group at RWJF, said in a press release. “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.”

In 2009, more than 40 of the largest retailers, non-profit organizations, food and beverage manufacturers and trade associations started the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF) alongside the Partnership for Healthier America. The foundation's goal was to lower obesity rates by 2015, with a particular focus on childhood obesity.

Sixteen companies took a further pledge to remove 1 trillion calories from store shelves by 2012 and 1.5 trillion calories by 2015. The companies -- Bumble Bee Foods LLC, Campbell Soup Company, ConAgra Foods (including Ralston Foods), General Mills Inc., Hillshire Brands (formerly Sara Lee Corporation), Kellogg Company, Kraft Foods Group/Mondelez, Mars Incorporated, McCormick & Company Inc., Nestle USA, PepsiCo Inc., Post Foods, the Coca-Cola Company, the Hershey Company, the J.M. Smucker Company and Unilever -- have manufactured 36 percent of all calories in packaged foods and beverages in the U.S. since 2007.

So far, the companies have beat their promise by more than 400 percent. The calorie decreases equal about 78 fewer calories sold to each person in the U.S. per day.

Lisa Gable of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation told the Associated Press that the findings “exceeded our expectations.”

"This is a very significant shift in the marketplace," she said.

The companies created new lower-calorie options, reformulated current food products and changed portion sizes.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers tracked the changing data on the food and beverage items and their sales over this time period. Their full, peer-reviewed study will be published later this year.

“The companies whose sales we analyzed have a big influence over the foods and beverages almost every American eats and drinks every day,” lead researcher Barry Popkin, the W.R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor in the School of Public Health at UNC, said in a press release. “The evaluation system we’ve created will enable to us to determine how changes to what’s sold influences what people consume.”

However, Jeff Levi, executive director of non-profit advocacy group Trust for America's Health, told Reuters that people should not assume that just because food and beverage companies are lowering calorie counts that our obesity problems will be solved.

Other significant sources of calories in the U.S. diet are from fast food and restaurants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined in Feb. 2013 that 11 percent of an U.S. adult’s calories come from fast food. Other recent reports, including May 2013 research in BMJ, showed that adults and especially teens underestimated the amount of calories in fast food meals by as much as 34 percent. Two more studies out that month in JAMA Internal Medicine found that restaurants and small food chains leave few choices for those looking to cut calories.

"Particularly with kids, there is a role for regulation,” Levi said.

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