An independent evaluation reported today that the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation succeeded in removing more than a trillion calories from the U.S. food supply, as originally pledged.
Through this pledge, leading food and beverage manufacturers had promised to reduce total food energy sold by 1 trillion calories, from a 2007 baseline through 2012.
Using Nielsen scanner data from supermarket electronic cash registers and from a random sample of consumer households, Shu Wen Ng, Meghan M. Slining, and Barry M. Popkin estimated calorie trends and reported the results today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
To some extent, the accomplishment simply reflects downward trends in the packaged food and beverage sector, which is losing market share over time -- mostly to the restaurant industry but perhaps partly to healthier food options. In an accompanying editorial in the same journal, Dariush Mozaffarian asks whether the pledge is a "marketing ploy."
As a rule, nutritional targets -- and other quantitative information intended for general audiences -- should be stated in easily explained per-capita terms. Who knows what a trillion calories in aggregate even means?
It reminds me of silly infographics that take a common-sense concept and convert it to some obscure immense quantity. For example, in my in-box this month, I have an infographic from Guiding Stars, which aims to report the amount of running required to burn off the average American's sugar consumption. Sugar is estimated at 3 pounds per week (a sensible way of explaining the quantity), while the amount of running is stated as 2.7 times around the globe over a lifetime (an irrelevant quantity designed merely to appear large to easily-impressed readers).
Today's study by Ng, Slining, and Popkin nicely goes beyond its assessment of the original trillion calorie pledge and also reports the modest but non-negligible resulting calorie changes on a per-capita basis. To the extent that the results reflect improvements in particular categories, such as sugar sweetened beverages, the findings are still reasonably upbeat.
The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation -- and the companies that made pledges -- will be delighted by today's coverage in major media outlets such as U.S. News and World Report, which states the good news broadly: "Obesity continues to plague the country, but it appears as though food companies are beginning to take strides in helping alleviate the problem."