Big Food pledges to downsize calorie content

on may 17th, 16 United States food companies who belong to The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF) pledged to reduce the calories in their products by 1.5 trillion by 2015 in a joint initiative with Michelle Obama (Let’s Move!) and the Partnership for a Healthier America  (a non-partisan organization, working to implements steps towards achieving the outlined goals of Let’s Move!)

the press release reads:

“Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation manufacturing companies will pursue their calorie reduction goal by developing and introducing lower-calorie options, changing recipes where possible to lower the calorie content of current products, or reducing
portion sizes of existing single-serve products. These calorie reductions are in comparison with what was available in the marketplace in 2008.”

“Today, many Americans are consuming more calories than they expend. Many nutrition and health experts refer to this imbalance as the “energy gap,”

What is the “energy gap?” According to my very favorite food and nutrition expert, Marion Nestle,

“…the 1.5 trillion excess calories that Americans consume each year on average.  This number assumes that the American population consumes an excess of 100 calories a day (the kids’ gap is less).  This number comes from some unexplained manipulation of 100 calories x 365 days per year x 300 million Americans.”

Based on years of past empty promises, I’m wary of yet another publicized commitment on behalf of Big Food to improve the quality of food products, and engage in efforts to improve the nation’s health. It could very well be yet another calculated marketing ploy to give these big companies a good rep in the eyes of a growingly scrutinizing consumer public. But, there is an evaluation component to this initiative that suggests some legitimacy that has been missing in past commitments.

“Under the terms of the agreement, the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF) will report annually to the Partnership on the progress that we are making toward this
pledge.  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, also will support a rigorous, independent evaluation of how the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation’s efforts to reduce calories in the marketplace affect
calories consumed by children and adolescents. RWJF will publicly report its findings.”

According to Nestle, RWJF is a reputable institution, whose affiliation with this new pledge suggests some hope for serious reform. Ideally, evaluation will hold companies accountable, and failure to meet standards will result in regulation and/or policy as necessary.

see the full press release here.

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