Making the Grade: An Assessment of the Healthy Weight Commitment

Jun 15, 2015, 10:00 AM, Posted by Ginny Ehrlich

Members of the food and beverage industry are taking steps to ensure that their investments towards the Healthy Weight Commitment are making a difference.

The food and beverage industries aren’t typically viewed as leaders in the movement to address the obesity crisis and alleviate food insecurity in the United States.

For that reason, the work of a consortium of 16 major food and beverage manufacturers and distributors is particularly interesting. The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF)—which includes such heavy-hitters as General Mills Inc, Kraft Foods Inc, and Nestle USA—is pioneering an innovative way to assess members’ philanthropic programs that target healthful eating and active living, to see just how much impact they’re having. The companies are trying to ensure that their investments--anything from support for local food banks to sponsorship of a 10k race promoting children growing up at a healthy weight-- really make a difference.

The ambitious effort involves a public-private partnership called Commitment to Healthy Communities (CHC) that teams the HWCF with the City University of New York School of Public Health. Using a specially designed framework, CUNY researchers will spend this summer evaluating which practices do and don’t work, on the program, company, and community levels.

Ultimately, researchers will provide each company with a confidential, in-depth report card examining its programs, and a higher-level evaluation of the other consortium members with aggregated industry-level metrics, qualitative results, and anecdotal case studies for illustration. Those data will allow organizations not only to make improvements, but also to share best practices and other information with fellow consortia members. The result should be a smarter and more effective investment in programs aimed at encouraging healthful eating and active living. Eventually, the findings will be shared with a larger audience, and become a broader public resource.

This is a gutsy move. For one thing, it requires that these companies share information with competitors. And it means opening themselves up through a transparent, honest assessment of their programs’ success—or lack thereof.

Most important, CHC demonstrates an important lesson: Building a Culture of Health requires the participation of multiple sectors. And what sector could be more vital than the companies that provide much of our sustenance?  A growing body of evidence shows that private industry, especially food and beverage companies, can be major contributors to building a culture in which there is access to healthy choices for all kids and their families—no matter where they live. This effort is particularly significant because it can strengthen the ability of private industry to engage in a positive, constructive way with other stakeholders, such as community organizations and public health agencies, also working to build a Culture of Health.

Some background: HWCF was founded in 2009 with a goal of reducing obesity rates, part of an agreement with the Partnership for a Healthier America, an independent organization dedicated to advancing the goals of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’ s Move initiative. Under the leadership of PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, who is chairman of HWCF, the member companies pledged to cut the number of calories they sell to the American public by 1 trillion by 2012 and 1.5 trillion by 2015. Ultimately, a team of independent researchers, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found the companies reduced calories by more than four times the amount that they had originally pledged.

This is an industry effort that deserves to be applauded.