“It doesn’t take that many extra calories to result in weight gain,” Dr. Bleich said. “Through marketing, we’re constantly being sold on foods we didn’t even know we wanted. We’re all about immediate rewards. We’re not thinking about the future, which is why we’re going to see more than half the population obese in 10 years.”
Unless something is done to reverse this trend, Mr. Ward said, “Obesity will be the new normal in this country. We’re living in an obesogenic environment.”
“While there’s no one thing to throw at the problem,” Dr. Bleich said, “if I could wave a magic wand, I’d make a tax on beverages a federal mandate because they’re the largest source of added sugar in the diet and are strongly linked to weight gain and health problems. When people drink their calories, they don’t feel as full as when they consume solid food, so they end up eating more.”
This may also be true for calorie-free sweet drinks. Although the jury is still out on cause and effect, the link between beverage consumption and greater intake of calories may also apply to drinks flavored with no-calorie or low-calorie sweeteners.
With a third of meals now being eaten out, Dr. Bleich suggested that prompting restaurants to gradually, surreptitiously reduce the amount of fat, sugar and calories in the meals they serve could help put the brakes on societal weight gain. “Menus could make healthier, lower-calorie meals the default option,” she said.
Controlling portion sizes is another critically important step. “Big portions are especially motivating for low-income people who reasonably want to get more calories for their dollar,” she said. Low-income groups already have the highest rates of obesity and, the new projections show, they are the groups most likely to experience a rising prevalence of obesity and severe obesity.
Another policy-based approach that could reverse rising obesity projections might be to partner with climate control advocates, Dr. Bleich suggested. “If we pull more meat out of the American diet, it would help both the environment and weight loss,” she said.