UNC Study Shows Food and Beverage Companies Exceed Caloric Cut Pledge

Release from UNC Gillings School of Public Health – September 17, 2014

(CHAPEL HILL, N.C.) 16 of the world’s largest food and beverage producing companies pledged to help reduce obesity of American families with children two to 18 years old by pledging to eliminate 1 trillion calories from the products these companies sold in the marketplace by 2012, with 2007 as the baseline year, and 1.5 trillion by 2015. The first comprehensive study of their efforts is in, and it reveals that both goals have been dramatically exceeded.

Two studies were completed by researchers from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and appear in the latest issue of American Journal of Preventative Medicine. The first study looked at the total marketplace change in calories sold from the 16 companies. The second study looked at what this meant in particular for the calories purchased by households with children. The researchers applied a more sophisticated analysis that allowed them to examine the impact of these companies independent of the effects of the Great Recession and demographic changes.

Among the findings was that the 16 participating food and beverage producers, who all are members of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF), collectively sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories in 2012 than in 2007.

The independent study by the UNC researchers was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

How did these reductions translate to consumers on an individual basis?

“Controlling for the recession and other major economic changes, we found American families with children bought 101 fewer calories from packaged goods per person per day in 2012 than they did in 2007,” said Barry Popkin, PhD, the W.R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor in the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC, who is leading the UNC research team. “Much smaller changes occurred in households without children. A large proportion of this reduction was from grain-based desserts and other sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages.”

Popkin’s team made the analysis possible by building an unprecedented, thorough picture of the U.S. food system. They compiled data from many public and commercial sources that, for the first time, track the flow of foods and beverages that are sold, purchased, and consumed by Americans. This allows researchers to identify how different categories of foods and beverages contribute to American’s calorie intake.

“We’re now able to track how many calories families are buying, the source of those calories, and how both are changing over time,” said Popkin. “This new source of big data on food production and purchasing opens unprecedented opportunities to identify key factors affecting consumers’ food and beverage purchases and, by analyzing all components of our food and beverage purchasing patterns help to identify far-reaching solutions that benefit the health of Americans.”

The UNC researcher team determined which individual products were included as part of the HWCF pledge and tracked sales of those products over time. To calculate the number of calories purchased by families with children, researchers attributed individual products to the HWCF companies; food and beverage companies that were not part of the HWCF; or private label, store brand, or generic products that retailers control; and tracked purchases of those products over time. All data used were publicly or commercially available.

“We believe that while the HWCF and non-HWCF brands made cuts in calories purchased per day of 66 calories and 23 calories respectively, there was only a tiny reduction of 12 fewer calories from generic products and store brands,” said Popkin. “Retailers determine the nutritional content of their store brands [generic or private label] products. We need them to become a much greater part of the solution, as our research shows a rapid increase in US purchase of these store brand products.” ”

“What is unique about the food purchase study is that households were followed over time,” noted first author Shu Wen Ng.   “Our modeling approach allowed us to isolate the changes in purchases of companies’ products independent of the effects of changing food prices, unemployment and demographic make-up.”

Future studies conducted by the UNC team and funded by RWJF will show how HWCF’s calorie-reduction pledge has affected trends related to packaged foods and beverages based on race, ethnicity, income, and age from 2007 to 2012. The major new upcoming phase of this evaluation also will link food and beverage purchases to dietary intake among children ages 2 to 18 to examine how changes by the food and beverage industry changes have affected the actual dietary intake of US children.

The 16 companies committed to the HWCF calorie-reduction pledge include:

Bumble Bee Foods, LLC; Campbell Soup Company; 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.; Nestlé USA; PepsiCo, Inc.; Post Foods; The Coca-Cola Company; The Hershey Company; The J.M. Smucker Company; Unilever.

Find more information, including links to the studies, here.

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Preliminary Results of the Effects of Tax in Mexico on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Energy Dense Non-Staple Foods

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The UNC Food Research Program team and the National Institute of Public Health (INSP) of Mexico conducted a study to estimate the effect of the one peso per liter tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in Mexico. Preliminary results, released by INSP Mexico are available here.

Another study by the team analyzed the effect of a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and energy-dense non-staple foods on their prices. Preliminary results on the effects of the tax are available here.

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Families with Preschoolers Bought Fewer High Calorie Beverages, Chris Ford’s Study shows

A new report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, titled Are Food and Beverage Purchases in Households with Preschoolers Changing? A Longitudinal Analysis from 2000 to 2011, with lead author Chris Ford, shows that between 2000-2011 purchases of high calorie foods and beverages declined in households with preschoolers.

This study was featured by the Gillings School of Global Public Health:

“Somewhere between 2003 and 2010, the upward trend in childhood obesity started to stall, leveling off around 2007,” Ford said. “Between 2000 and 2011, total calories from foods and beverages declined by 182 calories per capita among households with preschool children, as well.”

The study was featured by Reuters on August 1 in a story titled Parents of Preschoolers Buying Less Milk, Soda, and Juice.

The study was also featured last month in news releases by the Center for Advancing Health and Science Daily.

The researchers found the total calories from food and beverage purchases declined significantly. Declines were especially noted in milk, soft drink, juice and juice drinks, and grain-based dessert purchases, all of which include higher calorie solid fats and added sugars. Per capita, calories purchased per day decreased by 182 during the period.

– Science Daily

Read the research article here.

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Children’s Reported Energy Intake Falls; Later, Increases for Some

Recent research by UNCFRP team members and UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health researchers finds evidence of a decline in U.S. children’s reported energy intake in the early 2000s that is consistent with the previously identified obesity plateau that occurred in children in the early 2000s. It’s not all good news, though: the team found that by the end of the 2000s (2009-10, specifically) reported energy intake for adolescents had increased.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Michelle Mendez, discussed the research in an interview with Dr. Marie Benz of MedicalResearch.com. Dr. Mendez says,

These findings highlight the need for continued vigilance, and for more research to identify effective strategies–including dietary approaches–to improve nutrition throughout childhood and adolescence.

Read the article, titled Shifts in the Recent Distribution of Energy Intake among U.S. Children Aged 2-18 Years Reflect Potential Abatement of Earlier Declining Trendshere (PDF). Read more of the interview with Dr. Mendez here.

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Study by Dalia Stern highlights impact of Caloric Beverages in Mexico

A new study by Dalia Stern found that caloric beverages were a main source of energy (calories) for children and adults in Mexico between 1999-2012. The study was first published online in The Journal of Nutrition April 17, and findings are being highlighted by the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Mexico has some of the world’s highest levels of both childhood and adult obesity, and a new study from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill may have identified one of the main culprits – sugary beverages.

Access the full article in The Journal of Nutrition here.

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UNCFRP’s own Jennifer Poti awarded a 2014 Impact Award (UNC)

Jennifer Poti, PhD student and UNCFRP team member, was awarded a 2014 Impact Award by the Graduate School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Impact Awards are awarded to recognize graduate students for contributions they are making to our state. Read more about Jennifer Poti’s work and the other recipients of the 2014 Impact Awards here.

An estimated one-third of U.S. children are overweight or obese, and North Carolina has the fifth highest prevalence of childhood obesity within the 50 states. Doctoral student Jennifer Poti’s research looks comprehensively at factors that may contribute to poor dietary quality and obesity among children.


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UNCFRP’s own Lindsey Smith is April Tar Heel of the Month

lindsey_smithLindsey Smith, UNCFRP team member and current PhD student is being honored by the UNC Dean of Students as the Tar Heel of the Month for April 2014. Lindsey is an example of excellence in action and has volunteered for many local organizations to improve the health and well being of members of our community.

We’re happy to have Lindsey as part of our community, university, and our UNCFRP team. Read more about why Lindsey was selected here.

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Barry Popkin quoted in “Obesity Rate for Young Children Plummets 43% in a Decade”

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted research findings from a CDC report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that showed a significant decrease in obesity rates among young children (ages 2 – 5) from 13.9% to 8.4% between 2003-04 and 2011-12.

This drop in obesity rates is a good sign. Barry Popkin offered some explanation of what UNCFRP research has found:

Barry M. Popkin, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has tracked American food purchases in a large data project, said families with children had been buying lower-calorie foods over the past decade, a pattern he said was unrelated to the economic downturn.

He credited those habits, and changes in the federally funded Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, for the decline in obesity among young children. The program, which subsidizes food for low-income women, reduced funding for fruit juices, cheese and eggs and increased it for whole fruits and vegetables.

Read more now: Obesity rate for young children plummets 43% in a decade – New York Times

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Focus: Turning Point for US Diets?

New research published online January by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, [Epublication ahead of the print] shows the recession isn’t the reason for the leveling of obesity rates in the United States. The research was featured by UNC:

“We found U.S. consumers changed their eating and food purchasing habits significantly beginning in  2003, when the economy was robust, and continued these habits to the present,” said Shu-wen Ng, PhD, research assistant professor of nutrition at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health and the study’s first author.

“These changes in food habits persisted independent of economic conditions linked with the Great Recession or food prices,” Ng said.

Read more here.

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News Feature: Fast Food & Child Obesity

Several news outlets featured research published in the January 2014 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by UNCFRP team member Jennifer Poti, Kiyah Duffey, and Barry Popkin, which investigated the connection between children’s diets and obesity. The Los Angeles Times wrote:

In a new study, researchers from the University of North Carolina led by nutrition professor Barry Popkin have found that even when they are not eating at fast-food restaurants, children who frequent them tend to eat food that would probably make many of them overweight or obese anyway. The authors of the latest research combed through a national database of Americans’ health and nutrition behaviors and grouped 4,466 American kids–from ages 2 to 18–according to what they ate when they were not eating food purchased at a fast-food restaurant.


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