The First Lady’s campaign was launched yesterday with the stated aim of ending American childhood obesity within a generation.
Childhood obesity is at record levels, with 32 percent of US children and adolescents overweight or obese, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This falls far short of an earlier government pledge to shrink the number of overweight children to five percent by 2010. And the beverage industry has been repeatedly put forward as a target for blame, with some pointing to studies that estimate that beverages contribute 10 to 15 percent of calories consumed by American children and adolescents.
However, the beverage industry has come forward united in its support for Mrs. Obama’s initiative, and announced that it would take voluntary steps toward making calorie information clearer for consumers.
The American Beverage Association said that major drinks companies, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Dr Pepper Snapple, Nestle Waters and Sunny Delight, would coordinate their calorie labeling initiative with the Food and Drug Administration to ensure labeling consistency and to “go above and beyond what is required by the federal agency's food labeling regulations”.
President and CEO of the American Beverage Association Susan Neely said: "By contributing to the First Lady's initiative, our industry is once again leading with a meaningful program to do its part in addressing social challenges. We applaud Mrs. Obama for her common-sense, balanced approach to a tough issue like childhood obesity, which will require contributions from all segments of society to fully tackle."
New calorie count labeling
The new initiative will involve displaying total calorie counts more prominently on the front of packaging for every container size up to and including 20-ounce products, and for larger containers, such as two liter bottles, the reference serving size will be 12 ounces, the association said.
In addition, companies will display calorie counts on vending machines’ selection buttons, and will be displayed on fountain machines, it said.
PepsiCo’s chairman and CEO Indra Nyooi said: “We applaud the effort being led by First Lady Michelle Obama to address obesity in the United States and believe that her 'Let's Move' campaign can add significant momentum and leadership to many efforts underway.
"We have learned over the years there is no silver bullet to solve obesity. No single entity can do it alone. We need a guiding coalition in which individuals, companies, health agencies, consumer groups and governments all take on their appropriate responsibilities.”
She added that major food companies have the potential to contribute to health and wellness due to their resources, brands, research and development capabilities, consumer reach and logistics expertise.
Obesity can cause heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and certain types of cancer. The health care cost of obesity could be as high as $147bn a year, according to the CDC.