Prepared Foods Exclusive: Manufacturers Weigh in on Weight Products

William A. Roberts, Jr., Business Editor/New Media Editor

Concerns about obesity in this country (around the world, for that matter) continue and have led to a number of innovative approaches to foods and beverages. Still, the question on many minds centers around the cause of obesity and overweight. For instance, a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found the first gene-based link to obesity.

In the article "Obesity-associated Genetic Variation in FTO is Associated with Diminished Satiety," the researchers discovered that the gene appeared to impact the sensation of satiety in the 3,000 children involved in the study. The effort was to determine whether the FTO gene impacts the ability to burn calories or influence appetite. “The researchers found those with copies of the gene’s risky variant were less likely to have their appetite ‘switched off’ when they should be full,” the authors noted, marking FTO as the first common gene linked to obesity in Caucasian populations. Previous studies had found adults with two copies of the higher-risk version of the gene were, on average, 3kg heavier than those without the gene. Those with a single copy of the gene were also heavier, by about 1.5kg.

This is far from the only study on the matter, as a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that when faced with their favorite foods, women are less able than men to suppress their hunger, while another study pinned the blame on fat. The latter study, a result of efforts at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, found that fat and, in particular, palmitic acid may signal the body’s cells to ignore the appetite-suppressing signals of leptin and insulin. The study on animals nevertheless supports the common dietary recommendation that individuals limit their saturated fat intake, asserts lead researcher Deborah Clegg. Prepared Foods posed a variety of obesity-related questions to the industry for the “2009 Prepared Foods’ R&D Trends Survey: Weight Management.” The R&D and marketing respondents were asked “Who or what do you think overweight consumers blame for their weight issues?” (See chart “Who’s to Blame.) Topping the respondents’ list was “The (consumer’s) own metabolic/genetic makeup that makes weight loss difficult,” well ahead of the second-most common “The (consumer’s) own lack of exercise.”

Who's to Blame
Reason for Overweight Issue% Saying Large
Amount of Blame*
Their own metabolic/genetic makeup that makes weight loss difficult
Their own lack of exercise
Their own over consumption of food
Food manufacturers for marketing foods & beverages that lead to weight gain
Foodservices for selling foods & beverages that lead to weight gain
Educational system for inadequate information on diet and exercise
Source: 2009 Prepared Foods' R&D Trends Survey: Weight Management; BASE = 363
* Reason given a rating of 8, 9 or10 on a scale of 1 (small amount of blame) to 10 (great amount of blame)

Tied for third spot on the list was “Food manufacturers for marketing foods and beverages that lead to weight gain.” However, an ACNielsen survey shows most parents do not agree with that assessment.  The ACNielsen survey found only 1% of parents blamed manufacturers. Granted, 7% of parents do blame advertising, with 10% laying the blame at the doors of fast food restaurants. Some 9% blamed the child, and 66% of parents blamed themselves.

Comparing the two surveys reveals a relatively strong similarity between the amount of blame allotted to the foodservice side of the industry. The 10% of parents faulting “fast food” meshes fairly well with the 12% of respondents to Prepared Foods’ survey who blame “Foodservices for selling foods & beverages that lead to weight gain.”

Respondents to Prepared Foods’ survey who chose to provide other reasons cited a variety of possibilities, with several noting “lack of willpower” and “the cost of unhealthy foods,” with single responses indicting “(consumers’) lack of responsibility for their actions,” “high fructose corn syrup” and “lack of credible information and well-informed doctors.”

Approaches to Obesity
So what type of products is the industry interested in offering consumers for weight management? Prepared Foods asked respondents, “Which of the following is your company interested in developing?” The results are detailed in the chart “Low-fat Still Rules.” As the title suggests, fat reduction again leads the way, with well more than half of respondents citing it as the course of action, statistically unchanged from the 2008 survey.

Low-fat Still Rules
Formulation TypeSurvey Year
Reduced/low fat56 58
Reduced sugar43 39
Reduced / low calorie40 40
High protein32 31
Low glycemic index26 24
No sugar25 24
For satiety/"feeling of fullness"24 19
For "weight management"23 23
No fat9 22
Reduced/low carbohydrate18 22
For "weight control"18 17
For "weight loss"14 16
No calorie12 9
Source: 2009 and 2008 Prepared Foods’ R&D Trends Survey: Weight Management
2008 survey base response = 209, CI +/- 5.8% 90% Sig
2009 survey base response = 326

Despite numerous predictions that consumers may well seek “nutrition-added” food options, the food manufacturing respondents continue to regard reductions as their preferred formulations for weight management products. Sugar, calories, glycemic index and carbohydrates are all areas that respondents are attempting to reduce or eliminate altogether.

Protein ranks fairly high in regard, with just under a third citing “High protein” as a strategy, virtually unchanged from last year. In fact, most areas remained relatively the same from 2008 to 2009, with one exception: a fairly sizable increase in “For satiety/’feeling of fullness.’” The growing popularity of fiber and its satiating benefits may well be proving to be a strong impetus for manufacturers and suppliers alike.


From the November 23, 2009, Prepared Foods E-dition