The Partnership for a Healthier America (who should maybe think about trading that “healthier” out for “thinner,” seeing as how they talk about fat as if it’s synonymous with bad health, sigh) and Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (an industry group who at least have the honesty to put the weight obsession right in their name), in collaboration with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move (about which I’ve already had a word or two on this blog), have brokered a deal wherein food companies promised to reduce the number of calories available per year in the U.S. food supply by 1.5 trillion calories by 2015, starting with a trillion fewer calories per year by 2012. Sounds pretty super-impressive, right? Those are big numbers!
Here’s a straight news, press-release style version of the story at Food Navigator, your one-stop source for food industry news, holy cats how does anyone keep up? Here’s the official White House blog post about the announcement (by S. Lawrence Kocot of the Partnership For America), and here’s the HWCF press release for comparison, if you’re really bored. And here’s Food Safety News on the announcement, by way of Marion Nestle, who was hopeful that the announcement might turn out to be more than just a public-relations exercise. Marc Armbinder, politics editor for The Atlantic one of Dr. Nestle’s co-bloggers at that magazine’s excellent Food Channel blog, expressed more reservations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Michele Simon, author of Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back, was even more skeptical, to put it mildly.
My take? I need to read some more press releases and find out how they arrived at those trillions, which sound really impressive until you think (like I just did, iPod Touch calculator in hand), “Hmmm, about 300 million people in the U.S., times about 2700 calories available per person per day in 2008 (thanks, USDA Economic Research Service Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System!), equals about 800 billion calories per day, times 365 days in the year equals almost 300 trillion calories available per year? Of which 1.5 trillion would be half of one percent? Huh? As Dr. Nestle puts it,
This number assumes that the American population consumes an excess of 100 calories a day (the kidsâ€™ gap is less). This number comes from some unexplained manipulation of 100 calories x 365 days per year x 300 million Americans.
In case you were wondering, 100 calories times 365 days per year x 300 million people in the U.S makes 10,950,000 million calories per person per year, or almost 11 trillion (almost 4 percent of the total calories available in the U.S. per year, by my calculation). So where that 1.5 trillion-calorie reduction goal is coming from, I have no idea. Also I want to know what kind of population growth projections they’re using, stuff like that, so I can try to figure out what kind of calorie reduction per person per day 1.5 million might translate into over time, blah blah.
But all the numbers-nitpicking aside, I can’t help but notice, and feel obligated to point out since it’s obvious but no one’s mentioning the underlying big-picture message here that, look, people, government and industry are doing their very best to “solve” the obesity “problem”â€”so if anybody has the unmitigated gall to be fat after all these efforts, well, it can’t possibly be due to anything but their own gosh-darned moral failing. (And there’s certainly no possibility that anybody outside the officially-approved BMI categories might actually be perfectly healthy at the size they are, oh no!) Sigh. Oh, and that we can expect to see a lot more “lite” and “diet” products, especially smaller packages and reduced fat and sugar (or fake fat and fake sugarâ€”excuse me, I meant “low calorie sweetener”â€”versions of the same old crap. Double sigh.
On a happier note, a nut industry-sponsored meta-analysis suggests that eating “about two and a half airplane snacksâ€™ worth of nuts” helps lower cholesterolâ€”love the absurdly specific phrasing there, New York Times! Also, om nom nom nuts. Maybe I’ll make some granola; this dreary rain stuff is weather for firing up an oven in, for sure.