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Study Finds Companies' Pledge Led to Drop in Calories Sold

Mary K. Caffrey
A study published today found that 16 major U.S. food companies that pledged to cut calories from foods sold consumers cut 6.4 million calories, or 10.6 percent, over a five-year period ending in 2012. Authors of the study say the results show that selling Americans healthier food need not be at odds with a healthy bottom line, and that "the results should encourage other manufacturers and retailers to follow suit."
A study published today found that 16 major U.S. food companies that pledged to cut calories from foods sold consumers cut 6.4 million calories, or 10.6 percent, over a five-year period ending in 2012.

Authors of the study, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, say the results show that selling Americans healthier food need not be at odds with a healthy bottom line, and that “the results should encourage other manufacturers and retailers to follow suit.”

The study, published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, used data collected from 2007 to 2012 from companies taking part in the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation program, which sought to reduce the caloric intake from packaged goods sold in the United States by food and beverage manufacturers. Results published today represent an independent evaluate of the data, produced from the Universal Product Code (UPC) symbol on every product sold.

Companies taking part in the pledge included Campbell Soup Company, ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Kellogg Company, Kraft Foods, Mars Incorporated, McCormick, Nestle, PepsiCo, PostFoods/Ralston Foods LLC, Hilshire Brands, Coca-Cola Company, Hershey Company, Bumble Bee Foods, J.M. Smucker, and Unilever.

According to the study, which was provided to The American Journal of Managed Care, in 2007 food companies taking part in the pledge sold 60.4 trillion calories in the United States, or 35.5 percent of all calories sold. By 2012, the amount of calories fell to 54 million, and the companies’ share of all calories sold fell to 32.5 percent.

Taking population growth into account, the researchers say, calories from all packaged goods – including brands not taking the pledge – fell from 1,548 calories per capita a day to 1,449 calories per capita a day. But this was due largely to the 78-calorie a day drop just from the companies that did take the pledge, the researchers found.

Researchers found shifts in what foods were sold over the five-year period. There were noticeable increases in sales of fresh and frozen fruit, up 54.2% or 5 calories per day, and declines in the sales of candy and gum, down 10.8 percent, for a decline of 8 calories per day; cereals and granola, down 13.6% or 7 calories per day; and fresh or frozen vegetables, down 14.4 percent or 5 calories per day.

Among beverages, researchers found a notable increase in the amount of alcohol purchased over the five-year period, which was up 17.5 percent, while sodas, fruit juice, and milk purchases were all down.

Authors noted that the study period covered years of the Great Recession, which may have had an impact on purchasing and consumption trends. However, they found the results encouraging in light of the concern over increases in diabetes and obesity, especially among children.

“New studies indicate that industry efforts to reduce excess calories sold through product reformulation, changes in portion size, and marketing do not need to be at odds with profits and may actually lead to improved corporate bottom lines,” they write, citing a 2011 study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which found that companies that expanded healthier food product lines saw higher sales and profits.

The study comes as the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is holding its latest series of meetings, which will lead to recommendations that will inform official U.S. nutrition policy for the period 2015-2020.

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