The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently released the summary of a November 2-3, 2010, public workshop titled “Leveraging Food Technology for Obesity Prevention and Reduction Effort,” which addressed how the food industry “can continue to leverage modern and innovative food processing technologies to influence energy intake.” According to IOM, “Eating is impacted not only by the biological responses that occur when the presence of food or even the smell of food triggers physiological chain reactions but also by societal norms and values around portion size and other eating behaviors.” Workshop organizers invited behavioral scientists, food scientists and other experts from multiple sectors to discuss “evidence-based associations between various eating behaviors and weight gain and considered the opportunities and challenges of altering the food supply—both at home and outside the home (e.g., in restaurants)—to alleviate overeating and help consumers with long-term weight maintenance.”

In particular, the workshop attendees explored four general categories of eating behavioral challenges: (i) the association between increased portion size and increased energy intake; (ii) the association between decreased energy density and decreased energy intake; (iii) the effects of increased satiety on energy intake; and (iv) the unpredictable behaviors of consumers toward “improved” food products and foods with health claims. They also noted the regulatory, economic and product reformulation challenges facing manufacturers who wish to avail themselves of new food technologies to help consumers prevent or manage weight gain. “Several participants asserted that there is no ‘magic bullet’ food product, or type of product, to serve as an obesity prevention or reduction tool,” concluded the IOM summary. “There was also a call by participants for a more systematic analysis of obesity in America—that is, research aimed at teasing apart not only behaviors that lead to excess energy consumption but also behaviors that lead to insufficient energy expenditure.”