Taken at face value, a news release this week seemed to convey fantastic news for anyone who cares about the national obesity epidemic.
According to an “independent evaluation” funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 16 of the nation’s leading food and beverage companies collectively sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories nationwide in 2012, versus 2007.
Together the 16 companies involved produce about 36 percent of all calories from all packaged foods and beverages, items such as cereals, snacks, canned soups and bottled beverages, sold in the United States.
The companies, collaborating as part of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF), had previously pledged to remove 1 trillion calories from the marketplace by 2012 and 1.5 trillion calories by 2015. Based on that promise, the companies more than quadrupled their pledge.
Here are the numbers, according to the HWCF: The participating companies sold 60.4 trillion calories in 2007, the baseline year. In 2012, they sold 54 trillion calories, a 6.4 trillion calorie decline. That translates to 78 fewer calories per person per day.
“It’s extremely encouraging to hear that these leading companies appear to have substantially exceeded their calorie-reduction pledge,” said James S. Marks, MD, senior vice president and director of the Health Group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “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.”
Hard to argue that consuming fewer calories isn’t a good thing, given the extent of overweight and obesity that affects a majority of adults. But should we really be showering praise on the food companies, whose primary contribution to the healthfulness of Americans for the last three decades has been relentless R&D to create more processed products that increase both people’s grocery bills, as well as their waistlines?
The problem with all the hosannas over a 78 calorie-a-day reduction is not the what, but the how. How, exactly, did the nation’s food processors quadruple their proclamation to sell fewer calories?
Not by simply selling fewer units of high-calorie (high-margin) snack foods, that’s for sure. Nor by re-directing their advertising to emphasize nutrition over convenience in terms of meal preparation.
They did it by selling us lots and lots of non-nutritive “foods.”