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This weight-loss message was brought to you by the makers of Oreos

October 5, 2009 |  2:09 pm

The makers of Haagen-Dazs ice cream, Chef Boyardee canned pasta, Oreo cookies and Snickers bars are joining forces to combat … obesity.

That’s right. Nestle USA, ConAgra Foods, Kraft Foods Inc. and Mars, Inc. – along with the Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc., Hershey Co., Sara Lee Corp. and other giant food manufacturers – today announced the launch of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation. The goal of this new initiative is to reduce obesity, particularly in kids, by an unspecified amount over the next six years.

JunkfoodEating less junk food may – or may not – be part of the solution. Participating companies are welcome to reformulate their products and reduce portion sizes, but they’re under no obligation to do so.

Instead, the emphasis is on the notion of “energy balance.” Regardless of what you eat, you’ll gain weight if the total number of calories consumed is greater than the number of calories burned through exercise and other activities. As David Mackay, the chairman of the foundation’s board, put it, kids and adults could do a better job of balancing their “calories in and calories out.”

It’s a convenient message for Mackay, who is also the president and CEO of Pop-Tart, Cheez-It and Keebler cookie-maker Kellogg Co. (Its Froot Loops and other cereals may or may not be considered health foods, depending on who you ask.)

Safeway Inc. and other large grocers are also part of the coalition, which has pledged $20 million to the don’t-necessarily-eat-less-but-definitely-exercise-more effort. As one skeptical consumer commented on a CBC News website: “$20M doesn't seem like very much for these huge companies. What is that, like 6 Super Bowl commercials?”

The foundation also includes several nonprofits, such as the American Council for Fitness and Nutrition Foundation, PE4life and the American Dietetic Assn. Foundation. The ADA was in hot water recently for appearing to back – and then backing away from – the controversial Smart Choices food labeling system.

Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said she would be keeping the new initiative honest by tracking its progress and evaluating whether it is making “a significant difference for our nation’s children.” RWJF has committed $500 million – or roughly 150 Super Bowl commercials – to reducing childhood obesity by 2015.

The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation does not yet appear to have sprung for a website detailing its efforts, but a news release can be found here.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Can you eat like this if you just exercise more? Photo credit: Bryan Chan/Los Angeles Times