When I was a kid, I briefly raised mice as pets. Having grown up on Tom & Jerry cartoons, I like mice. They’re cute, they’re smart and they’re squeaky. If you raise mice, though, you learn one disturbing fact: They’re “cannibals” (technically, the word “cannibal” applies only to people).

Caged, sedentary mice control population and per-capita living space first by eating their young, then by eating the weakest. Being enamored of mice, I spoiled them and overfed them…until I noticed that the more obese they became, the more they “made room” in their limited environment to fit their sideways-growing population. The more room each individual mouse took up in their cage, the fewer mice I had.

In working on our annual Ingredients for Health and Weight Management issue, I couldn’t help but wonder if a sociological correlation can be drawn between an obese population and any systemic self-destructive tendencies. Certainly sociologists have, for many years, done so between deprivation and communal uprising. Why not the other way around?

Obesity remains an epidemic more than a generation after the numbers began spiraling upwards. About 2/3 of the population is overweight or obese, and the diseases of diabetes, heart disease, cancer (and many other diseases and dysfunctions) associated with our national weight gain continue to take their toll on our health system, our economy and our lives.

The good news is, as this year’s issue shows, processors are better informed and willingly accept the responsibility to do their part in turning back the tide.

Making and providing foods, beverages and ingredients is a trillion-dollar collection of businesses that are engaging consumers and each other in an increasingly proactive manner.

The same applies to the other subjects in this year’s healthful ingredients cavalcade. In just the past few years, there’s been a significant paradigm shift. Consumers are far more knowledgable about food and nutrition and simply lowering calories or slapping on a label declaring an item has “energy” or “antioxidants” no longer suffices. Consumers want to know what was added or substituted to lower calories; where did this energy come from; what are the specific antioxidants.

Ingredient makers went all in, investing heavily in science and technology to keep the momentum going as product developers scrambled to meet such specified demands.

Creative ingredient technologists are working together with equally creative research chefs and R&D heads to provide consumers with what they need to get healthy and stay healthy as they navigate life’s maze over the next few years and beyond.

In this closing issue of 2014, you’ll find information, articles and profiles that address recently established ingredients and the new ingredient trends for food, beverage and supplement makers targeting the multifaceted needs of kids, teens, on-the-go wage-earners and seniors. The health and nutrition needs of all these groups are included, with special attention to the groups occupying the two biggest markets: The Gen X-ers currently in charge and the Baby Boomers in the final career sprint, hoping not to get eaten by fatter mice on the way to the Rat Race finish line.