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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 July, 2003, 01:34 GMT 02:34 UK
Kraft plans to cut snack sizes
The US's biggest food maker is to limit the size of its portions because of concerns about increasing levels of obesity.

OBESITY IN THE US
family
61% of adults are overweight or obese
13% of children aged 6-11 years were overweight in 1999. This percentage has almost trebled over 20 years
300,000 deaths each year are associated with obesity
Obesity estimated to have cost the economy $117bn in 2000

Source: US Surgeon General

Kraft Foods, which makes a wide range of products from biscuits to cheese spread, says it is promoting healthier eating but admits it is also worried about lawsuits.

A lawsuit was filed earlier this year trying to ban Kraft's Oreo biscuits on the grounds that they contain an artery-clogging ingredient that "reduces human life".

Kraft Foods says the suit is baseless. The health drive announced by the company on Tuesday will include steps to cut portion sizes in its snack packs and eliminate marketing campaigns in schools, in an effort to help fight obesity.

High profile companies such as Coca Cola and Pepsi have already come under fire for doing deals whereby they give extra funding to schools that only stock the donor's cans.

Last week New York schools decided to stop selling sweet drinks and snacks in vending machines.

Health council

McDonald's, which still faces a law suit from obese children over its hamburgers, has already started promoting its salads and has started an initiative to help promote healthier foods and provide expanded product information.

Kraft spokesman Michael Mudd said it was forming an expert advisory council to recommend improving nutritional content of products and providing alternatives where appropriate.

Although I may question what their motivation is, anything that can perhaps decrease portion sizes and caloric intake in kids can have dramatic effects on obesity
Dr Henry Anhalt

It will also determine appropriate calorie content or other health standards for individually packaged foods - such as packets of Oreo cookies.

"Any existing products that are above that level will be reduced in size," he said. "Any that are at or below will be just fine the way they are."

Kraft declined to comment on any price changes, saying only that its products would be priced "competitively".

TOP KRAFT BRANDS
Dairylea cheese slices
Philadelphia cheese
Toblerone chocolate
Bird's desserts

Mr Mudd acknowledged the moves could help protect the company against potential lawsuits.

"We're making these commitments first and foremost because we think it is the right thing to do for the people who use our products and for our business, but if it also discourages a plaintiff's attorney or unfair legislation, that's fine with us," he said.

Kraft is a subsidiary of the tobacco company Philip Morris, which has itself faced a number of lawsuits over health issues.

Fat epidemic

Some question the company's motives but applaud the potential result.

Oreo cookies and logo
A lawsuit has already been filed over Kraft Oreo cookies
Dr Henry Anhalt, director of paediatric endocrinology at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, said he thought Kraft was trying to avoid lawsuits such as those that have hit the tobacco industry.

"Although I may question what their motivation is, anything that can perhaps decrease portion sizes and caloric intake in kids can have dramatic effects on obesity," he said.

The BBC's North America business correspondent Stephen Evans says obesity in America often seems like an epidemic.

The United States surgeon-general says it is three times greater now among adolescents than it was 20 years ago.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Matt Frei
"Perhaps it fears a raft of lawsuits"



SEE ALSO:
Lawyer attacks US cookie
13 May 03  |  Americas
Kraft gains as shares float
13 Jun 01  |  Business
Kraft poised for stock market debut
12 Jun 01  |  Business
What now for Big Tobacco?
07 Jun 01  |  Business


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