Are Wal-Mart's Healthy Changes Totally Bogus?

campbells soupThis week Wal-Mart announced that it would be making changes to help Americans eat healthier.

Some people applauded. But others -- like me -- blew raspberries because we think the changes don't go far enough. Of all the posts and articles I read on the subject, this one made me the saddest: Washington Post reporter Jane Black blogged that Wal-Mart's small, slow changes "strike the right balance" because:

... what Americans want is significant but imperceptible changes to the foods they eat -- and that’s if they want any change at all.

Oh, my America. It's articles like these that reveal to me what a nutrient-rich bubble I live in ...


Here I am in legendary foodie Brooklyn, New York, ensconced in my sweet cushion of food cooperatives, CSAs, farmers' markets, and surrounded by people (rich and poor) who make the same healthy food choices I do ... so FINE, I admit that I'm totally out of touch! But the love millions of middle class Americans have for processed food will forever baffle me. I DON'T GET IT.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's look at a couple examples to see just how small these new changes will be:

1. Wal-Mart will reduce the sodium in its packaged food by 25 percent over the next five years:

The maximum amount of sodium the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends total, per day, is 1,500 mg. So, is this better? I guess. But keep in mind a serving of soup is 1/2 a can -- not the whole thing. I'm also wondering, if the low-sodium option (140 mg sodium) is already sitting there on the same shelf, why not just choose that? Is it gross? More expensive?


2. Wal-Mart will reduce sugar by 10 percent (don't make me laugh, but okay, here we go):

  • The amount of sugar in a 12-oz. can of Coke is 39 g (140 calories from sugar).
  • In five years (if Wal-Mart keeps its promises), a 12-oz. can of Coke will have about 35 g (126 calories from sugar).

If you're following the World Health Organization's recommendation of getting only 10 percent of your daily calories from added sugar, that puts your limit at 172 calories* from added sugar. Congratulations! After that can of Coke, you'll have almost 50 calories from sugar left to play with! Maybe you will have some of that salad dressing after all, right? Because a cup of flavored yogurt has at least 100 calories from sugar, so forget about that option.

At the end of the day, these new changes will only affect foods that we should be limiting anyway. And I have to wonder if the changes mean people will justify eating more of them. Meanwhile, what about fresh fruit and vegetables? Will Wal-Mart's pledge to make these items "cheaper" induce people to buy them more often? Isn't it already cheaper?

What do you think? Will Wal-Mart's changes help Americans eat healthier or it is all just marketing malarkey?

*For 35-year-old woman weighing 130 pounds at 5'3" who exercises three times a week and wants to maintain her weight but not lose weight.


Image via Campbell's.

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