Coalition confronts obesity

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — A coalition of more than 40 of the nation’s largest retailers, non-governmental organizations and food and beverage manufacturers have joined to launch the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (H.W.C.F.), a national, multi-year effort designed to help reduce obesity by 2015.

The initiative, which will give special focus to childhood obesity, will promote ways to help people to achieve a healthy weight through energy balance, and will focus on three key areas: the marketplace, the workplace and school. So far, members of the foundation have committed $20 million to the effort.

"The stakeholders involved in this commitment recognize that by working together we can make a real difference on the obesity issue in our country," said David Mackay, president and chief executive officer of Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., and chairman of the board of the H.W.C.F. "We are united in an unprecedented, collaborative and focused effort to help children and adults achieve better energy balance between calories in and calories out."

Making a mark in the marketplace

In focusing on consumers in the marketplace, the foundation’s participating companies have pledged to make changes to products, packaging and labeling to make it easier for consumers to manage calorie intake while preserving or enhancing overall nutrition quality. Specific options mentioned by the foundation include redesigning packaging and labeling; product reformulation and innovation; providing smaller portions; placing calorie information on the front of products and providing consumers with information and education materials.

One of the coalition’s members, The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, on Sept. 30 detailed an initiative under which it will add energy information in the form of calories, kilocalories or kilojoules on a per serving basis to the front-of-pack label on each product it sells around the world. The company’s goal is to have the information on all products globally by the end of 2011.

According to Coca-Cola, the new labels will make it easier for consumers to make informed decisions about the beverages they drink based on their own individual taste preferences and nutritional needs. Coca-Cola already has initiated the energy labeling program throughout Europe and Australia with Mexico and the United States currently in the roll-out phase.

In the United States, the new labeling replicates information located in the Nutrition Facts Panel on the side panel of Coca-Cola products, making it easier for consumers to see at-a-glance.

"Our new product labels aim to help people better balance their energy intake, as variety, moderation and regular physical activity are the keys to effective weight management," said Rhona Applebaum, chief scientific and regulatory officer for Coca-Cola.

PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, N.Y., is another coalition member that already has begun taking steps to help consumers reduce obesity. The company earlier this year launched SoBe Life Water, the first zero-calorie, naturally sweetened, vitamin-enhanced water made with PureVia, an all-natural sweetener made from the stevia plant. In addition, the company for several years has offered 100-calorie packs of many Frito-Lay items and 90-calorie packs of Quaker Oats granola bars and bites.

"We are driven by the belief that by joining forces with partners across many sectors, we can make a far greater impact in the fight to reduce obesity than by working alone," said Indra Nooyi, chairman and c.e.o. of PepsiCo and vice-chairman of the H.W.C.F.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is conducting an independent evaluation of the foundation’s marketplace initiative and is expected to issue results from the study.

Watching weight in the workplace

The H.W.C.F. also will focus on the workplace. To that end, participating companies are considering providing calorie information and healthier food and beverage options in cafeterias, vending machines and break rooms, as well as offering weight management programs and implementing tools to track progress.

Coalition member General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, has offered a program for the past 25 years called TriHealthalon that is designed especially for the company’s sales employees and is tailored to meet the unique needs of different employee groups. More recently, the company has offered a "Health Number" program that asks employees a number of questions about exercise, diet and lifestyle, and tracks health measurements that may be measured over time, to calculate an employee’s "health number," while also supporting programs to improve and enhance an overall healthy lifestyle. The improvements in employee health as a result of the programs have been significant, according to General Mills.

A third area of the foundation’s initiative involves creating healthy habits in schools. As part of this effort, the foundation said it plans to expand the Healthy Schools Partnership to schools in Kansas City; Des Moines, Iowa; Washington, and Chicago. The program, which integrates nutrition education and physical education through a school-based curriculum, was developed by the American Council for Fitness and Nutrition Foundation, PE4life and the American Dietetic Association Foundation.

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