An obesity crisis has brought with it a variety of health concerns and conditions, but consumers are increasingly aware of the role of weight management in preventing or circumventing these wellness hurdles. In the process of meeting consumer expectations, manufacturers turn to a host of options to increase satiety and the healthy reputation of their offerings.
Obesity long ago reached crisis levels in the U.S., with nearly 70% of adults and almost a third (32%) of school-age children and adolescents either overweight or obese, according to government statistics. Between 1988-2008, the prevalence of obesity increased by 48% among adults and a whopping 72% among children and teenagers. Furthermore, Simmons panel data from Experian Marketing Services found almost 39% of all U.S. adults (some 87.8 million consumers) are watching their diets, either to lose or maintain weight. 
A Packaged Facts report, “Weight Management Trends in the U.S.,” recently estimated U.S. retail sales of weight management products and services (including foods and beverages, meal replacements and diet aids, as well as commercial weight management programs) would hit $38 billion this year and would grow to $40.9 billion by 2016. Far and away the largest portion of that sum will be spent on foods and beverages, accounting for almost 80% of the total. Curiously, however, Packaged Facts finds sales of weight management foods and beverages have been declining during the past five years. 
As obesity and overweight are complex issues (with causes ranging from environment, psychological, cultural and socioeconomic—to simple overeating, lack of exercise, slow metabolism and genetics), targeting the weight-conscious consumer can prove treacherous. For that matter, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes American society as “obesogenic,” in that it is “riddled with environments that promote increased food intake, unhealthy foods and a sedentary lifestyle.” 
Indeed, a spate of allegations have attempted to place the blame on the food and beverage industry, the fast-food industry in particular, citing deliberate efforts to create and market foods with little nutritional value and even “addictive” qualities.
Carbonated soft drinks have long been at the center of the debate, with numerous accusations that manufacturers target young people with advertising campaigns (allegations also levied toward so-called “junk” food manufacturers and fast-food restaurants, as well), and by featuring their products in school foodservice programs and vending machines. 
For its part, the beverage industry went on something of an offensive in 2006, when Coca-Cola and PepsiCo adopted guidelines to stop selling sugary drinks in U.S. schools. PepsiCo is in the process of removing full-calorie, sweetened drinks from schools in more than 200 countries, and Coca-Cola has recently announced a range of global business commitments. 
Coca-Cola’s four global efforts are intended to further contribute to “healthier, happier and more active communities” in the 200 countries where the company does business. Those commitments include: 
  • Offering low- or no-calorie beverage options in every market;
  • Providing transparent nutrition information, featuring calories on the front of all of packages;
  • Helping get consumers moving by supporting physical activity programs in every country where the company does business;
  • Marketing responsibly, including no advertising to children under 12 anywhere in the world.
What prompted the somewhat audacious move?  “Obesity is today’s most challenging health issue, affecting nearly every family and community across the globe,” Muhtar Kent, chairman and chief executive officer at Coca-Cola, explained in making the announcement. “It is a global, societal problem that will take all of us working together and doing our part. We are committed to being part of the solution, working closely with partners from business, government and civil society.”
Coca-Cola already has taken a number of steps, including product and packaging innovations, such as smaller portion sizes through the expansion of mini-cans in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Korea and Thailand. The company also has begun putting calories on the front of nearly all its beverages worldwide.

Child’s Play

Curiously, even as the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reports two thirds of the U.S. population is either overweight or obese, with 36% of adults (78 million) and 17% of youth (12.5 million) falling in the latter category, a health study has found U.S. children consumed fewer calories in 2010 than they did a decade prior. However, the more damning statistic may well be in the percentage of calories from fat in children’s diets: Those remained broadly the same during that time frame. 
A CDC researcher does suggest the obesity epidemic may have hit a plateau: R. Bethune Ervin, co-author of “Trends in Intake of Energy and Macronutrients in Children and Adolescents From 1999-2000 Through 2009-2010” and “Caloric Intake From Fast Food Among Adults: United States, 2007-2010,” contends that a decrease in children’s energy and carbohydrate consumption could be “one of several factors in the stabilization of obesity.” 
Nevertheless, Ervin does admit her study only measured calorific intake and did not compare it to guidelines on various factors, including physical activity. Therefore, it could not be ascertained whether those consumers were over-eating or not. 
She did note, among those between ages 2-18, calorie consumption decreased for most age groups over a 10-year period. Boys consumed 2,258 calories a day in 1999-2000 but approximately 2,100 calories in 2009-2010; girls had an average of 1,831 calories in 1999-2000 but 1,755 in 2009-2010. For both groups, however, the percentage of fat consumed remained in the 11-12% range, above the guideline recommendations of less than 10% of all calories. (A similar study of adult consumption patterns two years ago demonstrated no such decrease in calorie consumption.)
Childhood obesity concerns are hardly limited to the U.S., however. A group of experts from eight European countries evaluated parents’ education levels and the frequency with which their children eat food commonly linked to being overweight. Published in Public Health Nutrition, the results found that parents with a lower level of education fed their children foods rich in sugars and fats more often than did parents with a higher level of education. Furthermore, parents with a higher education level were found to feed their children more products typically associated with higher nutritional quality: vegetables, fruit, pasta and whole grains.
The article concluded, “Programs for the prevention of childhood obesity through the promotion of healthy eating habits should specifically tackle less-advantaged social and economic groups, in order to minimize inequalities in health.” 
However, any such programs might be well advised to heed the lessons of a University of Edinburgh study, which analyzed the eating habits of more than 2,000 five-year-olds and their families. It found “child-friendly” meal alternatives often are less nutritious than the main menu. The paper’s author, Valeria Skafida, determined, “Offering separate ‘children’s food’ for a main meal may often result in children missing out nutritionally,” and concluded that parents need to foster good eating habits in their children when they are young. 
One such habit is eating breakfast regularly. In fact, a study of 625 schoolchildren from 4th-6th grades in San Antonio found regular consumption of cereal for breakfast is linked with healthy weight in children. Published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, it also found that each time a child had cereal for breakfast, his intake of certain nutrients was higher than that of other children. Those who ate more cereal had more vitamin D, B3, B12, riboflavin, calcium, iron, zinc and potassium in their diets than those who ate less cereal or none at all; they also did consume slightly more calories, fat, fiber and sugar. 
For that matter, breakfast’s benefits are hardly confined to children. Louisiana State University research has found an oatmeal breakfast can enhance feelings of fullness and help curb hunger “to a significantly greater extent than a leading oat-based, ready-to-eat cereal.” Contending that the processing of the RTE cereal may cause changes in oat fiber that may reduce its ability to enhance satiety, the study evaluated 47 healthy men and women in a randomized, controlled crossover investigation. When the subjects had oatmeal, they reported increases in overall fullness and stomach fullness, as well as a reduction in hunger and the desire to eat. 
“We are encouraged by this research, because it shows that an oatmeal breakfast can be an effective strategy to help people feel full during that typically challenging time frame between breakfast and lunch,” noted Marianne O’Shea, senior director, R&D, Nutrition, PepsiCo; director, Quaker Oats Center of Excellence. She will be a featured speaker at the 2013 edition of Prepared Foods’ New Products Conference (more information may be found at

Filling the Void

Recognizing that chocolate can be a go-to snack for those moments when the next meal seems too far away (or, for that matter, when it is just time for an indulgence), manufacturers are turning to portion control and confections designed specifically for dieters. 
Mars Chocolate North America, for its part, is taking the portion-control route in launching Bites versions of Milky Way and Snickers. The unwrapped, bite-sized cubes are miniature versions of the iconic brands but are presented in a resealable pouch, allowing the consumer to decide just how many (or how few) they want to enjoy at a time. Mars notes the product is one of its most highly tested items among consumers (meeting or surpassing expectations in 97%). The company regards bite-sized options as one of the faster growing segments of the chocolate category—with segment growth of 23% over the last two years, per IRI. 
Nestle designed a range particularly for the weight-managing consumer in creating Skinny Cow; it has expanded the line further with the launch of Divine Filled Chocolates: milk chocolate pieces with creamy centers of either caramel or peanut butter cream. Each single-serve package features three pieces of chocolates with a total of 130 calories. 
Of course, for many consumers, weight management is almost synonymous with dining on salads; however, they are often stymied with dressings high in fat and calories. Serendipity’s recently launched line of dressings promise 90% fewer calories, carbohydrates, sugar, fat and sodium than other leading dressings and can be found in six flavors: Blue Cheese, Honey French, Caesar, Ranch, Creamy Italian and Thousand Island. In addition, the company notes the whipped nature of the product results in “built-in portion control.” Simply put, the dressing’s delivery mechanism aerates the dressings and dips as they are released, resulting in a 15-calorie-per-serving whipped dressing and dip. 
Manufacturers clearly have recognized the value of weight management products in all categories, particularly those not traditionally associated with weight consciousness.