If it was a case of paint-by-numbers, this would not be a pretty picture.

More than a third of American adults are obese, 35.7% to be precise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly 17% of children and young people (those between 2 and 19 years of age) are classified as obese, nearly triple the rate of three decades ago.

Reuters recently analyzed the lobbying efforts of the food and beverage industry; it found food and beverage lobbyists spent about $70,000 every 13 hours (more than $175 million since President Obama took office), more than double the amount of three years ago. The efforts have been successful, from the industry’s point of view: each of the 24 states and five cities that had mulled a “soda tax” opted against the notion; Congress denied a plan touted by four federal agencies to reduce sugar, salt and fat in food marketed to children; and, per Reuters, the food and beverage industries have “never lost a significant political battle in the U.S., despite mounting scientific evidence of the role of unhealthy food and children’s marketing in obesity.”

In its defense, the American Beverage Association says its members have cut 88% of the calories shipped to schools since 2004 by offering less-sugary drinks and emphasizing water, low-fat milk and juice in elementary and middle schools. Furthermore, 16 major companies (which account for about 75% of the food ads on TV aimed at children under 12) are regulating themselves under the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative of the Better Business Bureau. They are limiting ads for certain foods and adopting nutrition standards.

Increasingly, healthcare advocates have cited sugar-sweetened soft drinks as a cause for concern. The USDA notes the average 20oz. regular soda contains 227 calories, more than 10% of the total calories a woman needs to consume in an entire day to maintain a healthy weight. Roughly one in four Americans consumes at least 200 calories a day from sugar drinks, putting the beverages firmly in the sights of public health officials. However, Karen Hanretty, vice president of Public Affairs for the American Beverage Association, makes a compelling point: "Consumption of added sugars is going down. Soda consumption has declined, even as obesity has increased. To say that sugar is solely responsible for obesity doesn't make sense."

Granted, longstanding common-sense logic has been somewhat debunked in recent studies. Consider the adage that a good breakfast is the cornerstone of a healthy diet. Researchers at the Technical University of Munich, writing in the Nutrition Journal, discovered that a large breakfast almost always results in a higher total caloric intake in both obese and normal-weight participants. Their advice for consumers hoping to manage their weight was to “significantly reduce post-breakfast energy intake.” So, in other words, consumers should manage their weight by reducing calorie consumption—not exactly novel advice.

Perhaps more intriguing is one recent discovery of how to encourage weight loss. A survey by HealthyWage had hoped to discover why men account for less than 15% of participants in commercial weight-loss programs. The study found men respond “overwhelmingly well” to weight-loss programs that employ a competition-fueled, prize-based approach; men were more than four times likely than women to win a weight-loss “bet.” Some 63% of male participants in a weight loss “betting” program realized success, reducing their body weight by 10% or more, versus 15% of women achieving the same amount of weight loss. The bet was fairly straightforward: employees at a Fortune 50 company were given the opportunity to make a wager: $100, and if they lost 10% of their starting body weight within six months, they would win $400. Nearly half of the group lost at least 5% of their starting weight.

John Cawley, an economist at Cornell University who studies the economics of obesity, commented on the findings: "I'm excited to see what companies are doing to find win-win solutions in which individuals can achieve their weight-loss goals, and healthcare costs can be reduced. The results from the HealthyWage weight loss bet illustrate how economic incentives can be used to promote healthy behaviors. The gender differences they find raise the interesting question of how to tailor these sorts of incentives to what works best for different groups."

Regardless, it would appear that motivators for weight loss differ for men versus women. Do men need a reason to manage their weight beyond the healthy benefits? And how can a manufacturer capitalize on such a notion in launching a new weight-management product geared toward men? Perhaps a better question is whether men should even be considered when launching a weight-loss product, considering the survey suggests men’s inability to lose weight stems more from a lack of proper motivation.

From the April 30, Prepared Foods' E-dition