As the hectic holiday season comes to a close and a new year approaches, many consumers are once again vowing to adopt weight loss goals to shed those unwanted pounds. But with obesity increasing at alarming levels across the globe, a number of health experts are urging a new approach to help fight the nation’s burgeoning weight problem.
Over the past three decades, obesity rates in the U.S. alone have soared among all age groups, particularly among youth where the rate has more than tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While many weight loss efforts have relied on the drastic elimination of certain foods and beverages, health professionals say it’s time to focus on the adoption of small lifestyle changes that will prevent future weight gain.
“Small changes can produce big results,” says Beth Hubrich, R.D., executive director of the Calorie Control Council, an international association representing the low-calorie and reduced-fat food and beverage industry. “Reducing portions, controlling calories, increasing physical activity and adding more “color” to the plate (e.g., including more fruits and vegetables) can help people prevent weight gain without feeling deprived. These small changes are lifestyle changes and hopefully that is what 2011 will bring – a focus on healthy changes that can be maintained for life.”
With so many Americans focusing on controlling and losing weight, what trends will emerge in 2011? The Council is making these predictions when it comes to weight loss and obesity for the coming year:
1) A focus on preventing weight gain. The average American adult gains one or two pounds every year. Over time, that annual weight gain can easily increase the risk for heart disease and other weight-related health problems. Instead of focusing on weight loss, though, some health experts are now emphasizing the adoption of small, achievable steps that will help adults avoid gaining weight. While this might seem like a minor effort in a nation where 65 percent of the population is considered overweight or obese, Dr. James O. Hill of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Denver Health Sciences Center is convinced that these small changes – such as cutting 100 calories per day and adding 2,000 steps per day of physical activity – may help combat the obesity crisis. This emphasis on prevention has been embraced by a growing number of health professionals who say the food restriction and dieting approach has proven ineffective in curbing obesity.
“It’s always going to be harder to lose weight than to prevent weight gain in the first place. A weight ‘loss’ approach ultimately fails,” states Hill, who helped create America on the Move Foundation’s “Families on the Move” program, a national weight gain prevention initiative. “People need realistic goals, so we will continue to lose the obesity battle unless we do something qualitatively different. We have a better chance of using small, sustainable behavior changes that may be sufficient to prevent weight gain in most of the population. Walk a mile each day or take a few less bites at each meal. This approach can give us some needed optimism that we might actually be able to begin to turn the tide on the increasing prevalence of obesity.”
2) Updated dietary guidelines to help shape eating patterns. The U.S. departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services are expected to soon release the 2010 dietary guidelines, which will serve as federal dietary advice for the next 5 years. Based on the results of a June advisory report, many health professionals anticipate the final guidelines to place even greater emphasis on physical activity, while urging people to eat more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, foods with Omega-3 fatty acids and low-calorie dairy products. Experts also expect the new guidelines to focus on limiting saturated fats and reducing “added sugars” in the diet (to reduce calories).
3) “Light” products light the way. With two-thirds of U.S. adults and almost one-third of children and adolescents overweight or obese, research shows that more consumers are increasingly focused on weight control. According to market research publisher Packaged Facts, the global weight loss and diet management market – including diet food and drinks, weight loss programs and services, surgical interventions and weight loss drugs and natural therapies – reached $26 billion in 2009. Diet food and drinks was the largest category, with $18 billion, or 73 percent, of total worldwide sales. The development of foods and beverages that provide satiety, or hunger satisfaction, is projected to be one of the hottest trends in weight management in the coming years. By incorporating low-calorie, sugar-free products such as diet sodas, light juices and light yogurts, consumers can control calories while still enjoying their favorite foods on a reasonable budget. For example, choosing sugar-free chocolate will save 50 calories a day. Over the course of a year, that daily calorie savings could result in a five-pound weight loss. Drinking a diet soda instead of the full-calorie version can save 150 calories a day – or potentially 15 pounds – by year’s end.
4) A healthy staff is good for business. Health professionals expect that companies will continue to fight obesity with more corporate wellness programs in 2011. A recent study put the health care costs of obesity-related diseases at $147 billion per year, which can put a heavy price on employers covering paid sick leave and insurance policies. To help combat the problem, employers are creating incentive programs to stimulate health behavior change for employees in order to reduce absenteeism and costs of health insurance. According to a 2010 MetLife survey, more than one-third of employers now offer wellness programs – up from just over a quarter in 2005. Among the larger employers – those with 500 or more employees — 61 percent now offer a wellness program.
5) Calorie consciousness is “in” at restaurants. Across the country, a growing number of cities have been experimenting with requiring restaurants and food chains to list the calories of the foods they offer on their menus. A new federal law that will take effect in 2011, for example, will require restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets to disclose calorie counts on their food items and supply information on how many calories a healthy person should eat in a day. The measure, which passed earlier this year, is intended to create a national policy modeled on legislation already approved in a number of cities and states including Philadelphia, New York City, California and Massachusetts that require restaurants with standardized menus to clearly label the calorie content of each item.
Overall, according to the Council, 2011 will be a year of positive change when it comes to calorie control – both calories consumed, and calories burned. “Forget about adopting extreme or restrictive diets and instead focus on a lifestyle approach that incorporates small improvements in eating and exercise habits,” advises Hubrich.