The latest energy and nutrient availability data from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) indicate that the food supply provides approximately 3,900 kcal per capita and, with few exceptions, ample nutrients consistent with Institute of Medicine recommendations (http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-availability-(per-capita)-data-system/.aspx#26715, updated Feb. 1,2014). On the other hand, several analyses of the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data suggest an array of nutrient consumption inadequacies, many of which are reduced through the consumption of fortified and enriched foods (Weaver et al., 2014).
Shortly before the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee submitted its dietary recommendations to USDA and the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 16 major food companies established a coalition committed to strategic efforts to eliminate 1.5 trillion excess calories in the marketplace by 2015 relative to those available in 2007. Importantly, these companies represent approximately 25% of food calories sold in the United States.
In January 2014, an independent team of investigators reported that food companies in the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF) exceeded this goal by 400% (New York Times, 2014). These calorie reduction efforts resulted in a typical decline of approximately 78 kcal per capita per day (Ng & Popkin, 2014). Additional calorie reductions were observed among companies outside of the group of 16 participants, which accounted for another 11 kcal per capita per day.
These calorie reduction efforts on behalf of the foundation reflect, in part, increased consumer options that include lower-calorie foods, reduced portion sizes, and increased education in nutrition and encouragement in physical activity (Ng & Popkin, 2014). The total calorie reduction of nearly 100 kcal per person each day is consistent with that proposed earlier as a personal commitment to decrease the prevalence of obesity and change eating patterns (Casazza et al., 2014). According to the NHANES data (2009–2010), the prevalence of obesity from 2007 to 2010 remained unchanged among children (about 17%), and did not differ between men and women (Ogden et al., 2012). For those 20 years of age and older, obesity prevalence was nearly 36%, whereas NHANES data (2011– 2012) indicate this number has declined approximately 2% (Ogden et al., 2014).
A commentary on these positive efforts was not as encouraging. It was argued that despite these changes, consumers did not increase their purchase of weight loss products or those products such as fruits and vegetables that are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (Mozaffarian, 2014). It is confounding that obesity levels remain stable even as caloric intake declines. However, sales data indicate increased purchase (and consumption) of other nutrient-rich food items, such as nuts, poultry, eggs, whole grains, protein, and frozen fruit and yogurt, and a concomitant decrease in food components the 2010 DGAC urged to limit. Thus it appears that consumers continue to strive for a new, more healthful balance, which was an important message from the 2010 DGAC.
A new report from the Hudson Institute, a research organization, also shows consumers moving toward more healthful options. Using Nielsen ScanTrack data, researchers found that lower-calorie items from HWCF companies now account for 52.5% of dollar sales and 99% of overall sales growth (Cardello & Wolfson, 2014; http://s3.amazonaws.com/media.hudson.org/files/publications/HWCF_Hudson_Report__FINAL.pdf). In addition, HWCF companies that increased their
lower-calorie product offerings also increased total sales, while those that emphasized higher-calorie products saw sales decline (Cardello & Wolfson, 2014). Leading food companies are shifting their portfolios, and consumers are changing their purchasing habits; what is good for public health also appears to be good for business.
While these kinds of changes are noteworthy, the public health community remains concerned about the ensuing nutritional quality of the food supply, despite the potentially favorable nutrient data from ERS and the apparent shift in food purchases by consumers.
Weight management, including obesity reduction, requires a collaborative effort. That effort necessitates product innovation at the food science and nutrition interface that contributes to greater diversity of health-promoting choices for consumers, and a commitment by consumers to pursue these innovative products and to persevere in adopting more active lifestyles.
Roger Clemens, Dr.P.H., CFS,
Chief Scientific Officer,
Horn Company, La Mirada, Calif.