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NCCOR members contribute to new research that shows major food companies have cutback on calories

Jan. 13, 2014, NCCOR

Sixteen of the nation’s leading food and beverage companies have cut 78 calories out of an American’s daily diet according to a new study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). This is the result of a five-year (2007-2012) reduction in sales of food and beverages totaling 60.4 trillion calories. The data collection and analysis of this study was overseen by a handful of national experts including members of the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR).

The companies involved, including Campbell Soup, Nestlé, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, acted together as part of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF). The companies pledged to remove 1 trillion calories from the marketplace by 2012, and 1.5 trillion by 2015. The study found that, thus far, the companies have exceeded their 2015 pledge by more than 400 percent.

“These are very promising results. Research has shown that average increases of only 130-170 calories in children’s daily energy gap, that is an excess of calories consumed over those expended through physical activity and normal growth, were sufficient to explain the rise of childhood obesity in the United States, ” said C. Tracy Orleans, Ph.D., senior scientist at RWJF and NCCOR Steering Committee member. “This makes the average reduction of 78 calories in daily calories sold per capita quite meaningful.”

To determine the impact of the pledge, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) combined data on foods and beverages sold by participating companies with nutritional information for those products. They then determined which individual products were included as part of the pledge and tracked sales of those products over time. The UNC team was advised by a roster of leading experts including Orleans and NCCOR members: Laura Kettel Khan, M.I.M., Ph.D., and Jennifer Seymour, Ph.D., of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Susan Krebs-Smith, Ph.D., of National Institutes of Health; Jay Variyam, Ph.D., of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA); and recent NCCOR member Molly Kretsch, Ph.D., of USDA.

“The evaluation itself is a stunning accomplishment based on truly pioneering work by the UNC team to develop a system which could actually track food system changes from factory to forks,” said Orleans. “Never before, in any nation, have we had the ability to track food stream changes in this way. This will be an enduring product of the evaluation.”

Public health experts hope that the success of the HWCF will catalyze similar changes by other companies.

“We are seeing the beginning of essential efforts to reduce the production, sale, and marketing of excess calories from sugar and fat that have contributed so much to childhood obesity levels globally, and to track food industry changes.

Given the strong business case for these food industry changes, these results reflect a triple win – a win for business, a win for the public’s health, and a win for science. And, overall, a win for the culture of health, ” said Orleans.