On Wednesday, September 23, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo and chair of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF), sat down to discuss how philanthropy and industry can work together to promote health.
Prompting the discussion are two new studies published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that show there have been significant declines in both calories sold to and calories purchased by consumers in the United States, and an announcement that three top soda companies – Coca Cola Co., PepsiCo and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group – will work to reduce calories consumed from beverages 20 percent per person by 2015.
Launched in 2009, HWCF is a group of major food and beverage companies that have each pledged to help reduce obesity rates in America. Sixteen of its member companies pledged to sell 1 trillion fewer calories by 2012, and 1.5 trillion fewer calories by 2015, than they did in 2007. In 2007, the participating companies sold 60.3 trillion calories to consumers in the U.S.
Instead of the 1 trillion calories they were aiming to cut by 2012, the group has already surpassed their 2015 goal, cutting a whopping 6.4 trillion calories from the market, according to one of the two studies, exceeding their initial goal by 400 percent. This reduction translates to approximately 78 calories per person per day over the five years of the challenge.
To meet their goals, the companies made the largest changes to sweets and snacks, grain products including cereal and granola, carbonated soft drinks and fats, oils and dressings.
A second study also discovered a decline in the number of calories bought in packaged foods and beverages. As of 2012, families with children bought 101 fewer calories from packaged goods per person per day than they did in 2007. The types of foods with the largest reductions mirrored those from the first study: sweets and snacks, grain products and carbonated soft drinks.
Notably, the 16 participating HWCF companies were responsible for a larger part of the decline in caloric purchases than companies not participating in HWCF.
At the discussion in Washington, Nooyi and Lavizzo-Mourey made it clear that the obesity epidemic is complex, and will require a multi-faceted solution. “Everyone has to come together to solve this issue,” Nooyi advised. “Industry has taken the first step, and now we have to build on this momentum.”
The goal of RWJF is to build a Culture of Health in the U.S. One way to do this, Lavizzo-Mourey noted, is to encourage the idea that “healthy choices should be the easy, default choices.” Nooyi added that there is also the need for people to recognize how personal accountability and responsibility are key in curbing the epidemic.
The discussion also touched on changes needed to portion sizes, pricing strategies, advertising and marketing choices and incentives offered to encourage people to make healthier choices. Nooyi also noted that industry needs to work to ensure that healthy foods are marketed to the same extent or more than unhealthy foods and are as affordable and easily-available. .
Both speakers mentioned that more needs to be done to bridge the gap in availability of foods by income and in “food deserts,” which are areas where it is harder to find affordable, good-quality fresh foods.
To conclude the discussion, Lavizzo-Mourey said that we are “on a long, generational journey,” and though there are clear signs of progress, we need to think of comprehensive solutions because there is no “silver bullet” or single organization that will solve the obesity epidemic alone.
“And we need to take a hard look when we stumble,” she says, to make sure that we learn from our experiences and keep moving forward.
You can also follow the conversation on Twitter at #caloriecutback. Additionally, RWJF has also developed an infographic which details the key findings of both studies, and a written summary of the studies can be found here.