April 11, 2010

US Food Industry Plans To Improve Nutrition

The U.S. food industry said on Friday that it could improve what is sold on store shelves without government intervention, even though it said it is willing to let the White House take the lead on making foods healthier in schools.

"The school environment is a special environment where having a government play a role in setting the standards for what's sold makes sense," Scott Faber, a vice president at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, told Reuters recently.

"I think the public marketplace is a different environment," he said.

The Obama administration launched an initiative to combat growing levels of obesity among children.  Michelle Obama, the leader of the initiative, urged food makers to work faster to reformulate or repackage food to make it healthier for children.

"They respect our ability to find ways to produce more products that offer consumers more choices including choices with less sodium, less sugar, less fat," said Faber.

According to the food industry group, members improved the nutritional value of over 10,000 products between 2002 and 2006, and it plans to update that total in May to include changes through 2009.

The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a separate initiative, plans to announce pledges to improve the health content of its products later this month.

The obesity rate of US children has doubled in the last 20 years, which means almost a third of American children are either overweight or obese.

According to U.S. federal agencies, obesity causes a host of health problems like heart disease and diabetes and costs the US about $150 billion every year.

"We've heard from consumers and you can see this in the companies in terms of how they've changed their recipes," said Pamela Bailey, president and chief executive of GMA.

Major food manufacturers have recently changed some popular products in efforts to try and not miss out on the lucrative push toward healthier foods.

Kraft Foods announced it plans to cut sodium levels in its North American products by about 10 percent over the next two years, which eliminated over 750 million teaspoons of salt.

PepsiCo vowed in March to cut the levels of salt, sugar and saturated fats in its top-selling products by 2020. 


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