Today at the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), a coalition of 16 food and beverage companies announced that it exceeded its goal of eliminating 1.5 trillion calories from the U.S. marketplace. The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF) met its 2010 commitment to the Partnership for a Healthier America two years ahead of schedule. Lisa Gable, president of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, was joined at the announcement by Tracy Orleans, Senior Scientist at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and Hank Cardello, Director of the Hudson Institute’s Obesity Solutions Initiative. Dan Glickman, former Secretary of Agriculture and co-chair of the BPC’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative (NPAI), welcomed the group and moderated the question and answer session.
It goes without saying that the food industry plays a large role when it comes to shaping what Americans eat. From large food manufacturers to retailers to restaurants, few Americans go through a day without interacting with the products and services supplied by these players. By offering portion-controlled products, low- and zero-calorie options, and reformulated recipes, several major food companies hope to help Americans meet their nutrition goals in the midst of an obesity epidemic.
In our June 2012 report, Lots to Lose: How America’s Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens Our Economic Future, several of the NPAI’s recommendations focused on opportunities for the food industry to manufacture, promote and serve healthier products. We also encouraged large institutions, such as hospitals and universities, to evaluate their purchasing practices to ensure that they procure and serve healthier foods.
In his opening remarks, Secretary Glickman acknowledged the influence the private sector can have: “Today’s update from the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation shows how leadership, when combined with data and integrated with consumer demand, can inspire a shift toward products with a smaller calorie footprint — products that still have a positive impact on a company’s bottom line. This is what you call a win-win.”
One of the most promising aspects of today’s announcement is the potential for these 16 companies to affect the food and beverage marketplace more broadly. As more food companies work to improve the healthfulness of their product portfolio, their significant combined market power can shift food supply chains, making healthier options more widely available and more cost competitive. Research suggests that this could do more than just help improve the dietary habits and health of Americans—it could also have a positive impact on food industry bottom lines. A new Hudson Institute study found that lower-calorie products drove 82 percent of the sales growth among the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation member companies.
We look forward to reading the formal evaluation of the commitment when it is released by RWJF this fall. In the meantime, we encourage continued innovation in the arena of healthier products by companies across the food value chain.