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A new study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that America's 16 biggest food and beverage manufacturers sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories in 2007 than they did in 2012.
That's 4 billion boxes of Wheaties, 6.4 billion boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, or 45.7 billion cans of Coca-Cola.
In what will surely be a be welcome bit of public relations for consumer packaged goods giants like Kraft Foods Group and General Mills, the 6.4 trillion calorie reduction well exceeds the 1 trillion calories the manufacturers promised to cut over the five-year span as part of a pledge made to Michelle Obama's Partnership for a Healthier America.
The 16 manufacturers, which in 2007 produced 36% of the 60.4 trillion calories sold as packaged goods in America, are also well ahead of schedule with regard to the 1.5 trillion calories they said they would cut by 2015.
"It’s extremely encouraging to hear that these leading companies appear to have substantially exceeded their calorie-reduction pledge,” James S. Marks, MD, senior vice president and director of the Health Group at RWJF, said in a statement. “They must sustain that reduction, as they’ve pledged to do, and other food companies should follow their lead to give Americans the lower-calorie foods and beverages they want."
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who combined sales data from the companies with nutritional information for their products to determine the number of calories sold over the years.
At first glance, this would seem a rosy outlook for companies like General Mills and Coca-Cola, which a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded study cited this past fall for using celebrities to market unhealthy foods to children.
However, some remain skeptical of how much the altruistic motives and healthier options put forth by the food and beverage companies contributed to the reduced calorie counts.
Sharon Begley at Reuters suggests that the drop might have been created in part by the recession, which has led to an overall sales decline for many of these packaged foods brands.
And the Center for Science in the Public Interest's Margo Wootan told Ad Age that the drop-off could have been motivated more by financial goals at the behest of consumers who have become more health-conscious in the years since 2007.
"Are Americans just drinking less soda and switching away from some junk foods to better alternatives on their own?" Wootan asked.
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- Robert Wood Johnson Foundation