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Food Companies Cut 6.4 Trillion Calories From Supermarket Shelves: Report

Honoring a pledge, 16 major companies went beyond their goals

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"It is good to see the food industry working together to help people make healthier choices," she said.

Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, cautioned that calories are only one factor when it comes to eating a healthful diet.

"Let's remember that health is a complex process and is not just about calories," Heller said. "Consuming fewer calories will help with weight management, but how have the changes food companies made to their products affected the salt, fiber, chemical additives and preservatives or artificial sweetener content of the foods?" she added.

"Better-for-you-foods seem to be trending now. 'Better than what?' I might ask. I hope they really are healthy-for-you-foods that everyone can enjoy as part of an overall healthy diet," Heller said.

Of the 40 companies that founded the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation in 2009, 16 took the pledge, according to an RWJF news release.

These 16 companies, however, accounted for 36 percent of the calories in all packaged foods and drinks sold in the United States in 2007, the news release noted. Their products include cereals, snacks, canned soups and bottled drinks.

Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, also took issue with focusing only on calories and not quality.

"Reducing calories sold is not the same as improving the overall quality of foods and the diet. The evidence is overwhelming that good foods making up good diets can exert an enormous influence on health," Katz said.

"If a reduction in calories sold and consumed is joined with improvements in nutritional quality, and both trends are sustained, the public health will certainly improve. I am hopeful that will occur, but we are not there yet," he noted.

Gable responded that lowering calories also reduces those additives that nutritionists are worried about.

"When you reduce calories you also reduce a variety of things like sugars and fats," she said. "Calories is the common denominator amongst all the products. So we made a decision that we were going to focus on calories so that we could really capture all the capabilities of the product lines of the 16 food and beverage companies."

Not only did these companies reduce calories, they also improved their financial performance, Gable said. "Between 2007 and 2011, lower-calorie products accounted for 82 percent of sales growth, which is really significant," she said.

Other companies committed to the calorie-reduction pledge are ConAgra Foods (includes Ralston Foods); General Mills, Inc.; Hillshire Brands (previously Sara Lee Corporation); Kellogg Company; Kraft Foods Group/Mondelez; Mars, Incorporated; McCormick & Company, Inc.; Nestle USA; PepsiCo, Inc.; Post Foods; the Hershey Company; the J.M. Smucker Company; and Unilever.

The study was done by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who expect to publish their full study later in the year.

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