Industry and Public Health Sector Can Work Together  


​By Lisa Gable, President at Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation

At an event last month, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi underscored that the private sector has taken major steps to reduce obesity in the U.S.

“Industry has done a very good job taking out more calories than we expected to take out,” she said, “I think the time has come for people to applaud industry for the progress made.”

She reinforced that the private sector has an integral role to play in the battle against obesity. Indra doesn’t simply vocalize this belief, she embodies it.

Five years ago, she founded the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, which brought together 16 of the leading food and beverage companies committed to cutting calories in the products they sell.

As president of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, I watched as the companies teamed up with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It was important to all of us that we ensured a fair arbiter would judge the companies’ calorie cuts.

The CEO led group set out to cut 1.5 trillion calories over 5 years, but they beat that goal by 400%. Together, these companies cut 6.4 trillion calories, about 78 calories per person, per day. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association last month indicates that declines in overall caloric intake and food purchases appear to be concurrent to the slowing in the growth of obesity and diabetes.

“The results were astonishing,” Derek Yach, former executive director of the World Health Organization, wrote, “The steepest declines in sales were reported for the least healthy products. In other words—both food quantity and quality is starting to improve.”

“It was very important to us that when a goal has been met, especially when it’s been cleared by such a tremendous margin and it was based on a goal with some scientific basis, that it’s important to pause and say ‘we met that goal,’” Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said.

I couldn’t be more thrilled or proud to be part of this endeavor. These firms are helping to reduce obesity and improve our nation’s health, but they’re also doing something else: The success of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation has proven that the private sector can work with the public health community to do what is best for the public.

Exciting new research shows offering lower-calorie options is also good for business. Hank Cardello of the Hudson Institute recently released a report showing just how much business benefits from offering healthier options.

For instance, while sales of lower-calorie products increased $485 million during the Healthy Weight Commitment’s first five years, sales of higher-calorie products remained flat. The research also found that companies that increased their lower-calorie products increased total sales; and companies that emphasized higher-calorie products declined.
Hank summarized his research at an event last week saying, “There’s a win-win here. I don’t think it has to be adversarial.” Food and beverage companies can do well by stockholders and consumers by offering healthier options.

Hank added one more takeaway from the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation’s success. “We’ve demonstrated collaboration works.”

Indra would agree. “The industry has taken the first big step,” she said said, “Now we have to build on this momentum and figure out … how can we all come together and address this issue in a more holistic way.’

The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation brought together industry and public health advocates -- two groups historically suspicious of one another -- to work toward a common goal. By all accounts, we’ve succeeded, and set a precedent for future collaborations.

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