Food industry cut 6.4 trillion calories, so why aren’t we all thinner?

Food manufacturers—largely blamed for our nation’s obesity epidemic—have finally gotten some positive reviews for living up to their promises to cut calories from their processed foods. In fact, they’ve even exceeded them, according to a report issued Thursday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Sixteen of the nation’s largest food and beverage companies sold 6.4 trillion fewer calories in the U.S. in 2012 than they did in 2007, the report found, even though they had only pledged to cut 1 trillion.

Sounds great, right? And here’s something that sounds even better: “This 6.4 trillion calorie decline translates into a reduction of 78 calories per person in the United States per day,” states the Foundation.

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That means that the average person should be eating 546 fewer calories per week and 28,000 fewer calories per year for a net pound loss of 8 pounds per year. That should have made a huge dent in our obesity crisis, which, while it may be leveling off, hasn’t actually reversed itself.

Am I wrong in having doubts about the impact of this calorie-cutting?

After all, the American Heart Association issued a statement on Thursday commending the companies—who provide 36 percent of all foods and beverages that we purchase in supermarkets—for providing “better food choices” while urging other companies “to follow suit and do what’s right for their consumers.”

Coca-Cola stood up and took a bow by releasing this statement to the media: “The Coca-Cola Company has introduced over 100 no- and low-calorie beverages in the last seven years and we have innovated with portion-control packaging and front-of-pack calorie labeling.”

I asked New York University nutrition professor Marion Nestle, author of the best-selling book Food Politics, what she thought of the new study, and she pointed out that it wasn’t yet published in a peer reviewed journal, so it was hard to know how the data was collected and verified.

The findings summarized on the Foundation’s website state that researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted the analysis by examining sales data on individual foods and beverages that fell under the calorie-reducing pledge taken by the 16 companies.

“If the figures given are correct, it means that Americans are, for example, drinking fewer full-sugar beverages,” Nestle said via email, “but we already knew that. Will this change affect [our nation’s] weight? It depends on what else everyone is eating.”