food makers cut calories

Food Makers Agree to Cut 1.5 Trillion Calories

Michelle Obama announces a food industry agreement to remove calories from food; independent observers will make sure they actually do it.

by Marian Burros

Food Makers Agree to Cut 1.5 Trillion Calories

Fewer calories at the supermarket could mean an end to childhood obesity.

RODALE NEWS, WASHINGTON, DC—What does it mean when First Lady Michelle Obama announces that a group of food and beverage manufacturers are going to take 1.5 trillion calories out of the yearly American food supply by 2015, 1 trillion of them by 2012?

Actually, no one really knows. But we can hope that if those calories are no longer available, it might help children maintain a healthy weight and, consequently, that Mrs. Obama’s pledge to reduce childhood obesity in a generation will have a better chance of coming true.

THE DETAILS: Sixteen food and beverage companies have made the calorie-ridding pledge, in response to a speech Mrs. Obama gave in March to a food industry association. At that event, she urged the industry it to speed up its efforts to produce healthier foods, and to reduce marketing of unhealthy foods to children. And, while they were at it, to increase the nutritional value of the food. Agreeing to cut the calories is an opportunity for the food industry, concerned about local sugar taxes and increasing congressional interest in writing antiobesity legislation, to stave off regulations while getting on board with the first lady’s Let’s Move initiative.

At a news conference Monday, Mrs. Obama introduced the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a coalition of 80 retailers, food and beverage manufacturers, and industry trade associations. The calorie-cutting companies, members of the foundation, include some of the country's largest manufacturers, such Pepsi, Coke, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, and Campbell Soup (see the end of this article for the full list), and they have pledged to lower calories from fat and sugar in their products by offering lower-calorie options, changing recipes to reduce fat and sugar, or reducing portion sizes of existing single-serving products.

“This is precisely the kind of private-sector commitment we need,” Mrs. Obama said.

Marian Burros reports on Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campain:
Michelle Obama Unveils Plan to End Childhood Obesity
Michelle Obama Moves, and Is Moved by, Schoolkids
Secret Weapon for Fighting Childhood Obesity: Children
White House Garden Grows; School Lunch Budget Shrinks

The 1.5 trillion figure is based on statistics that show Americans consume 6 trillion more calories a year than they expend. That amounts to about 100 to 165 calories per person, per day. The 16 companies account for 20 to 25 percent of those excess calories. The new coalition has joined forces with The Partnership for a Healthier America, which works with Mrs. Obama, the honorary chair, to advance Let’s Move!

WHAT IT MEANS: Is this more than just a promise? The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation has hired an outside lawyer to gather its results each year and report on them, but that hasn’t assuaged skeptics’ fears that the food industry will do what it has always done in the past: appear to improve the nutritional value of its food while making very few meaningful changes. Hiring an outside lawyer to monitor the foundation members' actions and report the results has not stilled the critics, though, because the lawyer can hardly be called independent when he is being paid by the foundation.

So someone—perhaps the White House, though it won’t say—decided that a truly independent third party should do the policing. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a nonpartisan philanthropic and research organization that works to improve the nation’s health, will keep the companies accountable, evaluating how the group’s efforts affect the number of calories consumed by children and adolescents. James Marks, MD, a pediatrician and a senior vice-president for the foundation, says it turned down a request from the Healthier Weight group to partner with it, but is willing to evaluate the group's progress “in the role of independent evaluator because of some skepticism” about the industry. He added that “much of the health community would approach statements by the food industry with similar skepticism.”

Dr. Marks says it would be possible, using government health statistics that come out every two years and commercial data that track sales of products like soft drinks and snacks, to find out if the changes made by the industry have any impact. "Our findings will be completely independent of any reporting the companies do themselves. An independent evaluation naturally increases pressure on the company to deliver," he says.

Reasonable skepticism aside, it's a hopeful sign that food makers are willing to sign on to cut their calories. “It’s a big risk for the companies,” Dr. Marks added. “Their willingness to be public in their commitment is a statement of their willingness to be leaders.” But he warned that success isn't just up to the food companies. “If they cannot find people who are willing to buy their products and appreciate them, and give them greater market share, but instead are staying with companies not making improvements,” the experiment will fail.

In other words, if we all really want our kids to be healthier, we have to put our money where their mouths are, and actually buy healthier food when it shows up in the stores.

The following companies have pledged to lower the calories and fat in their products:

Bumble Bee Foods, LLC
Campbell Soup Company
ConAgra Foods
General Mills, Inc.
Kellogg Company
Kraft Foods, Inc.
Mars, Incorporated
McCormick & Company, Inc.
Nestlé USA
PepsiCo, Inc.
Post Foods/Ralston Foods, LLC
Sara Lee Corporation
The Coca-Cola Company
The Hershey Company
The J.M. Smucker Company


Published on: May 18, 2010

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Substantially, the article is

Substantially, the article is really the best on this laudable topic. I concur with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your future updates.Just saying thank you will not just be enough, for the wonderful lucidity in your writing.

Substantially, the article is

Substantially, the article is really the best on this laudable topic. I concur with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your future updates.Just saying thank you will not just be enough, for the wonderful lucidity in your writing.

I totally agree...

And in fact our kids watch very little TV, are home schooled and the blind fold isn't necessary as we primarily shop the "outer edges" (produce, meat and dairy, bakery) of our local food store and at a health food store for bulk grains, etc. The average parent has got to put quite an effort in, but it's an effort that is worthwhile, and extremely important. Just don't buy crap, and then they won't eat it. And neither will we!!
Good point about the child psychologists, etc.: and they are using OUR money to do it. That should make us all angry enough to stop giving them our money.

The purpose of food is to provide calories and nutrients.

So now lower income people will have to spend more money to feed their kids enough calories. Obesity occurs in North America not because there are extra calories floating around, but because people don't have the resources to eat nutrient dense food. I think this is the biggest load of crap I've heard in a long time, and it actually makes me angry. We have come so far away from the facts of what food IS and what it is FOR that we can call some corporate chemical manufacturer such as PEPSI and COKE "Food Makers", and applaud them for removing calories (i.e., food energy, the fuel we need to live) from our lives. Possible better ideas: teach kids what food is (not packaged chips, soda, instant dinners) and where it comes from by promoting community gardens, farmers markets and community kitchens where families can cook and learn together. Provide fresh, organic fruits and vegetables to school lunch and breakfast programs instead of white bread and processed cold cereal products. Subsidize organic farmers, instead of big business agriculture and "food" manufacturers. Just a start....

???Are you kidding Madam President?

First things first. How about we go with the organic as one person said. People being obese does have something to do with their diet however, how many adults or young adults in this country actually do any exercise even walk somewhere instead of drive when they can. How about getting to the gym, walking when a distance is short, committing to an exercise program with others so we can all get fit together. Our grandparents didn't drive everywhere they went. At least mine didn't. As far as diet, it was nutritionally sound. We ate out very infrequently. Another consideration is genetics. Its like being short or tall; one can't change those genes. If you are meant to be 5'tall and 100 pounds genetically you will be. On the other hand if you are 6'2" and 300 pounds and your entire family was tall and heavy then you are genetically pre-disposed. We need to consider all the factors and stop thinking that one behavior is to blame. By the way, I always limited my kids time on the computer and video games and they thank me for it now. They know they can go and do other activities and the computer will be there when they need to use it again.
vinnigirl, mama, granny, and great nanna

"kids" buying food?

The kids don't buy the food, the parents do. Parents need to step up and lead their families into the proper foods to eat by not buying junk food.

Not black and white issue

Everyone should take responsibility, we need a responsibility revolution in the west, but the food companies are to blame the most. Many poor families can't afford anything but foods that are loaded with cheap calories. Just look at where all the food subsidies are going, corn, soy, sugar, did I mention corn. Also, big food corporations marketing is much more sophisticated in the last 15 years, working with child psychologists not to help kids but to get them to buy more and eat more and then we wonder why so many children are becoming obese? How is a family supposed to compete with a corporation that can spend $25 million a year convincing their child to buy their cereal or soda??? Unless you don't let your child watch TV, don't play video games, are home schooled, and put a blind fold over their eyes when you go shopping, you have to understand just what the average parent is up against.

Mfg. Cut Calories

Ladies, Ladies, please. You have to look at this as a glass half full. What else can it be if it was empty to begin with? What do you all think low and middle income kids eat every day? Have you ever read the ingredients list on a pack of Ramon noodles? I have seen families buy those things not 3 or 4 at a time but, a whole box at a time. And, yes, even in a small town where I live most grocery stores have organic products, all at higher prices. I've bought them myself only to find that the
quality and freshness left a lot to be desired. And, contrary to popular belief, not all communities have a farmer's market. Somehow I cannot imagine that a poor family can hop in their car (if they have one)and drive 15-20 miles to get fresh, cheap
I say KUDOS to Mrs. Obama....again and again.


Personal responsibility

I look forward to see what is actually done by these efforts. However, isn't it our responsibility to choose what we feed our families? We don't have to rely on the big-name food producers or our government to step in. We can buy fresh and get back to what our grandparents did -- make dinner from scratch. Yes, in the day where both parents work, it may be harder. But that is where planning ahead and using your freezer will work for you. I don't like the idea of blaming food companies for feeding us what we have begged them for over the last 20 yrs, faster food items with lots of taste. Of course they are going to be full of everything we don't need to put in our bodies. That's why their shelf life is so long.

Artificial sweeteners

I agree with your comment about artificial sweeteners and fats. When I read this article, the first thing I thought of when reducing calories was mentioned was whether or not they were going to use artificial sweeteners and fats. I'd rather they work on the healthy nutritional side of things.

Mfg cut calories

Thank you, Mrs. Obama. At last, at least a start!
Now we shall wait to see how much the price of the products go up to pay for the changes in manufacturing....oh dear.
But, with Mrs. Obamas' help we have taken a first step. Hurray!!

What's going to replace what's being taken out?

Why not just demand organic? Why approach food giants who create foods with super-sugers and preservatives in labs? I think she's talking to the wrong group...she needs to talk to the Organic farmers and work with them for the solution. But she can't since the government controls all the food we eat - except the Organic farms and farmers...

Cutting calories from manufacturers

I think the intent is great but I hope this doesn't mean more artificially sweetened and fattened foods. They need to pledge to simply reduce the number of nutrtionally defunct foods. I would rather see them contribute money to increase the number of school gardens and nutrition education in schools. As a dietitian, I would like to see fewer processes foods, not more.

How about toxins

That is a great step forward. But how about growing food with less toxins? I still don't think I can allow my child to eat the school lunch.

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