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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Vow to cut 1.5 trillion calories by 2015

I saw this calorie headline today. Is is real, or meaningless? I vote for meaningless!

The article went on to say the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation is composed of 80 companies that produce or sell us about 20-25% of the total food and beverages we consume (these are "processed" foods, not vegetables). They will reduce calories compared to what was in our foods back in 2008. Presumably they are going to reduce the calories (sugar? fat?) in their meals or drinks.

The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation will be counting those calories to make sure the reduction happens. The companies have also sponsored a kid's website EAT PLAY BURN to encourage physical activity.

In the imaginary world of slim-trim 2015 Americans, what does a 1.5 trillion calorie cut mean?

Let's analyze the numbers:

We will probably have about 330,000,000 people in the United States by 2015.

Currently we are told to eat 2000-2500 calories per day. We produce much more. Some gets wasted but much gets eaten. Let's estimate 3000 to make the numbers easier - it doesn't matter exactly in this case as we are trying to get a rough idea of the scope of the problem.

Multiply these two numbers, and you get a lot of zeros! Calculators aren't much help because their displays don't show as many numerals as we need. You can use scientific notation if you want to, but I like to see the zeros to get the real impact of the number.

330,000,000 x 3,000 = 990,000,000,000 or American eat about a trillion calories a day.

Here's how we count those zeros:

000 thousands
000,000 millions
000,000,000 billions
000,000,000,000 trillions

So the headlines mean that these companies which supply one-quarter of our calories will sell:

1 trillion x 365 x .25 = 91 trillion calories 

in a year. The promise is to cut that to 89.5 trillion calories. Will they sell us less food? That's not their idea. They will just take some calories out of what they already sell, by changing the ingredients.

What's this reduction represent as a percentage of daily intake?  About 2 percent.

You can easily reduce your own intake by 60 calories a day and achieve this reduction today! Why wait til 2015?  

But how much is 60 calories? you may ask.

Here are some examples of food items that represent 50-75 calories:
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 packet of mayonnaise
  • 1 apple or orange
  • 1 slice of bacon
  • 1 slice of processed cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 4 ounces soda 
  • 2-3 packets of catsup
  • 6 french fries
  • 9 raisins
  • 10 almonds
My conclusion? It's not going to take rocket science to save us 60 calories a day. But it will be easy to eat and drink those calories back on if we're not careful ...

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