Timing is everything. This year’s “Annual R&D Trends Report on Weight Management Formulation” was in process as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE—pronounced “fancy”) was underway.

It was a great opportunity for extra insight into what’s happening in weight management, obesity and diabetes from the point of view of the only nationally credentialed body of nutrition experts. And, while this year’s event, held in Houston, had a number of relevant sessions—two of them served as bookends for food and beverage manufacturers interested in fighting overweight/obesity.

In “How Consumers Decide What to Eat: Strategies for Making Healthy Choices,” Jim Painter, Ph.D., RD, of Eastern Illinois University, presented new wrinkles in the ongoing “mindless eating” research he’s conducted solo and with Brian Wansink, Ph.D.

The Mindless Eating paradigm (and the excellent book of the same name by Wansink) explains what keeps consumers blind to caloric intake and portion sizes and how to avoid the outlined pitfalls. While taking into account environmental factors—ranging from culture to high-stress, sedentary lifestyles to the overwhelming number of easily accessible food choices—Mindless Eating acknowledges presentation as an overlooked, yet critical—and, most importantly, easily controllable—factor driving us to overeat.

Painter pointed to those subtler cues that can regulate consumption and satiety subliminally, including utensil size, labeling and packaging (both container size and container shape). He also cited the visual cue aspect to explain why Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to limit soda sizes might not have been harebrained after all—thus answering a challenge I posed last spring (see “Have a Coke and a Smile,”).

Meanwhile, in “Advanced Glycation End-products in Foods,” presenters Helen Vlassara, MD, and Sandra Woodruff, MS, RD, examined a still little-known aspect of metabolic obesity. Modern diets are largely heat-processed and, therefore, contain high levels of pro-oxidant, advanced glycation end-products (AGEs).

AGEs are “known to enhance inflammation and suppress host defenses.” Vlassara and Woodruff noted that “flavorful” AGEs increase appetite. Their presentation cited the connection between AGEs and inflammation, obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Processors could delve deeper into the chemical effects of manufacturing, with an eye toward reducing production of, or countering the effects of, AGEs.

This year’s survey recognizes a shift from focusing solely on obesity to a more generalized approach that moves the broader spectrum of overall weight management to the center.