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Kraft cuts snack sizes to beat fat

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Obesity in children has tripled during the last 20 years, say U.S. health officials.

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Food giant shrinking portion sizes in bid to fight obesity
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LONDON, England -- The largest food company in the U.S., Kraft Foods Inc., will reduce portion sizes and stop marketing in schools because of concerns about the increasing rise in obesity.

The makers of biscuits and sweets -- including Oreo cookies and Dairylea cheese slices -- say they will also change some of their recipes to promote healthier eating, and also because of concerns over possible lawsuits.

Earlier this year, a Californian attorney began suing the makers of Oreo cookies because he said they contained trans fats, which have been linked to heart disease. He later dropped the proceedings because he said the public were now aware. (Full story)

Kraft plan to put healthier snacks in kids lunch boxes as well as eliminate promotions in schools -- including free samples and posters -- in an attempt to fight obesity, the company said on Tuesday.

But critics believe Kraft may be acting to defend itself against a sudden surge in lawsuits against the food industry.

Last week, New York City's school system announced it would remove fizzy drinks and sweets from school vending machines, and in February a federal court threw out a lawsuit against McDonald's that claimed its burgers and fries cause obesity.

"This is the sort of pre-emptive move to stave off the lawyers and the critics," Henry Anhalt, an endocrinologist and director of "Kids Weight Down" program in New York, told Reuters.

"What I think is going on is that the soothsayers are saying that coming down the pike are going to be large lawsuits, class action suits looking at cardiovascular disease, premature death, diabetes, and they're going to turn to the food industry and lay it on their feet," he said.

Kraft conceded that the moves could protect them against future lawsuits.

"We're making these commitments first and foremost because we think that it is right thing to do," company spokesman Michael Mudd told The Associated Press.

"If it also discourages a plaintiff's attorney or unfair legislation, that's just fine with us."

The proposals have been welcomed by health professionals, who hope the company could set a precedent for the whole industry.

"Reducing portion size will help people lower their overall calorie intake since studies have shown that people tend to eat what is in front of them," Samantha Heller, a nutritionist with New York University, told Reuters.

Kraft said it could not estimate how much the changes, to be introduced in 2004, would cost.

The U.S. surgeon general said obesity had doubled among adults and tripled among children since 1980, according to Reuters.

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