The upward trend in obesity that has vexed public health officials for decades may have leveled out, but the healthy eating movement remains on the upswing. Nearly 100 million Americans, or 42% of the adult population, are actively trying to lose weight or maintain their current weight, according to survey data published by market research firm Packaged Facts in the report, Weight Management: U.S. Consumer Mindsets.

Compared to years past, healthy eating has replaced dieting as consumers attempting to lose and maintain weight are increasingly seeking out healthy foods and shunning brands and products that specifically emphasize weight loss or weight maintenance benefits, or even dieting in general. Negative consumer sentiment is also associated with the use of descriptors including "low," "light" and "reduced."

Particularly hard hit and scrambling to reposition themselves are frozen entrée brands with strong weight loss connotations including Nestlé's Lean Cuisine and the Heinz' Weight Watchers brands, according to Packaged Facts in a separate report, Functional Foods: Key Trends by Product Categories and Benefits. One of the major challenges for frozen foods in general, and frozen entrees in particular, in relation to shifting from weight management to wellness positioning is addressing growing consumer preference for fresh, minimally processed whole foods and ingredients that are considered natural, non-GMO and don't contain artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or other additives.

Despite the shift, there remains opportunity for traditional diet plans to thrive as important weapons in the arsenal available to Americans trying to lose weight. For brands such as Weight Watchers, the key to sustaining success may be in marketing products to Americans who are significantly overweight. Packaged Facts data indicates weight loss dieters who report being 30 or more pounds overweight are more likely to avail themselves of non-prescription diet products and commercial weight loss systems. For example, 19% of significantly overweight dieters use Weight Watchers, compared to only 11% of other weight loss dieters.

Weight Watchers also received a boost recently from the news that media icon Oprah Winfrey had purchased a 10% stake in Weight Watchers International.

The revelation caused Weight Watchers' stock to soar, and Winfrey is now poised to potentially become a powerful promotional ally for the brand's products and services. It's a welcome promotional boon not only due to the general shift in consumer weight loss strategies, but also due to the increased competition Weight Watchers faces from other brands in the fitness and dieting industries, as well as from free options available online and through smartphone apps.