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CHICAGO (AP) -- Kraft Foods Inc., the nation's largest food manufacturer, announced Tuesday it will take steps to curb portion sizes in its snack packs and eliminate marketing campaigns in schools to help fight obesity.
The Northfield-based company, which makes Kraft cheese, Nabisco cookies and crackers, Oscar Mayer meats and Post cereals, said it is forming an expert advisory council to draft standards and measures it can use to promote health.
Its task will include recommending improved nutritional content of products and providing alternative products where appropriate.
Kraft spokesman Michael Mudd said the 10-person panel to be assembled from international experts on behavior, nutrition, health and communications will determine the appropriate calorie content or other health standard for individually packaged foods -- such as snack packs 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 its products would be priced "competitively."
The company also will halt all in-school marketing techniques, such as providing book covers and posters, scoreboard sponsorships, contests and product samples, Mudd said. Products still will be stocked in school vending machines, though the advisory panel could decide some products now stocked there are inappropriate.
The company said it hopes to develop its standards by the end of the year and implement them over two to three years.
Some question the company's motives but applaud the potential result.
Dr. Henry Anhalt, director of pediatric endocrinology at New York's Infants and Children's Hospital of Brooklyn at Maimonides, said he thinks Kraft is 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.
For example, Anhalt said, children typically treat a 20-ounce soda bottle as one serving, while it actually contains 2-1/2 8-ounce servings. Taken daily, the difference can translate into 18 pounds a year, he said.
Mudd said the company is making the changes because it's the right thing to do, but, "If it also discourages a plaintiff's attorney or unfair legislation, that's just fine with us."
"What people eat is ultimately a matter of personal choice, but we can help make it an educated choice," said Roger Deromedi, co-CEO at Kraft. "And helping them get more active is every bit as important as helping them eat better."
Among the commitments the company announced Tuesday are providing nutrition labeling worldwide; advocating public policies to improve fitness and nutrition in communities; and encouraging children to develop better eating and activity habits.
Kraft shares fell 27 cents to $32.28 each in midday trading Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange. ------
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)