Big Food: Progress to Celebrate or Regret?

Two studies of the impact big food companies have made in efforts to reduce calories in the American food supply were finally published today. They provide the detailed numbers behind headlines last January that said the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF) had far exceeded its commitment to reduce calories and done it sooner than promised.

These publications in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine show that the 6.4 trillion calorie reduction achieved since 2007 translates into 78 fewer calories per person per day.

Now it seems the problem for some public health advocates is whether to cheer or worry that the bar was set too low. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which played a key role in bringing people together for this effort, is quite enthusiastic. In a commentary published with the two analyses, CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey offers her assessment:

The example of the HWCF indicates that substantial healthy changes within the food industry are possible and that consumers are likely to welcome them.

Dariush Mozaffarian offers a nihilistic view in a separate commentary:

The pledge appears to have been a stroke of marketing genius, turning their steadily declining calorie sales into a novel opportunity for self-promotion, an easily publicized but deceptive “sham” pledge that merely reflected ongoing trends.

Mozaffarian grudgingly concedes that “the food industry is a necessary partner for effective future solutions to address suboptimal diet,” but he offers little insight that would be useful for a productive partnership. Diana Thomas, Director of the Center for Quantitative Obesity Research at Montclair State University, tells us:

If we are to be objective, it’s hard to say that this effort is just a “marketing ploy” by food companies. Likewise, these changes were not put in motion by food companies alone. What we’re seeing is likely the result of the intertwined influence of social pressures and the work of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation.

Unless one is blinded by contempt for the food industry, these results and the work of delivering and analyzing them are encouraging. They suggest that U.S. dietary habits are finding a new, healthier equilibrium. This is hardly the end of the story, but it’s a great start.

Click here and here to read the two studies. Click here and here to read the two commentaries. Click here to read more about the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” — Frederick Douglass

Sisyphys, photograph © / flickr

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2 Responses to “Big Food: Progress to Celebrate or Regret?”

  1. September 18, 2014 at 9:55 am, Kiyah said:

    I completely agree: food companies aren’t going anywhere, and unless those who are interested in advocating for – and working toward – tangible and positive change are willing to work *with* them, I can’t see how we move forward toward solutions to what ails our nation. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • September 18, 2014 at 12:16 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks for taking time to share your perspective Kiyah.