Coca-Cola Co., Kraft Foods Group Inc. and the other largest foodmakers in the U.S. cut 6.4 trillion calories from their products over five years, exceeding a pledge made to first lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign.
The 16 companies, part of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, vowed in 2010 to remove 1 trillion calories from the U.S. market by 2012 and 1.5 trillion by 2015. They exceeded the higher target by more than 400 percent, according to an evaluation released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The companies, responsible for more than one-third of the calories in all packaged food and drink, created new products, lower-calorie options and smaller portion sizes to meet their pledge. Obesity has doubled for adults and tripled for children since the 1980s, spurring the Obama administration to urge voluntary improvements in the nutritional value of food sold.
“To think it would come this far, that’s a surprise and that’s exciting,” James Marks, senior vice president of the Princeton, New Jersey-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said in a telephone interview. “They are the largest and most strategic companies, and other companies have had to respond to their success.”
More than 78 million U.S. adults -- 1 in 3 -- are considered obese, according to an October report from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. About 15 percent of children in the U.S. are considered obese, according to a December 2012 CDC report.
Other companies participating in the calorie pledge included General Mills Inc., Kellogg Co. and ConAgra Foods Inc. The 6.4 trillion reduction was measured from 2007 through 2012, and the companies’ commitment has helped to galvanize broader industry interest in healthier products, Marks said.
“Companies having better-for-you products are doing better in the marketplace,” he said. “They’re doing better in stock market performance, in brand reputation.”
A little more than a year after her husband became president in 2009, Michelle Obama began using her position as first lady to try to end childhood obesity within a generation. She began lobbying companies to make products healthier, improve food labels and limit marketing to children.
Kraft said it would further reduce the sodium content of its products and Walt Disney Co. moved to make food and beverage advertising to kids on its TV networks and radio stations meet new nutritional standards by 2015.
A U.S. report last year by a nonprofit outgrowth of the Obama-led initiatives found that anti-obesity efforts by 48 companies, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Walgreen Co., had led to more fresh foods in poor neighborhoods, reduced soda consumption and a jump in vegetable sales.
The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, which was the focus of today’s report, has commissioned a study to understand the impact of the pledges, foundation President Lisa Gable said in a phone interview. Until the study is completed, the food companies will not set new calorie reduction targets, she said.