Whole Grains / Health & Wellness / Columns

The diet balancing act

Boasting before-and-after pictures of dieters, fad-diet marketers often make sweeping promises that tell followers they will “lose weight fast.” Despite these claims, research from the University of Arkansas’ Division of Agriculture shows that only 5% of Americans who approach weight loss this way manage to keep the pounds off in the long run. These diets usually push one particular type of food and overlook a key component to a healthy lifestyle: Balance.

One promising trend the Grain Foods Foundation (GFF) sees among consumers is a growing interest in a healthy lifestyle. Our 2013 consumer segmentation study revealed heightened interest among participants in making food part of a broader lifestyle choice.

Consumers who try this approach realize the results. In fact, among those on the National Weight Control Registry who lost weight and maintained their weight loss for at least one year, 89% did it through both diet and exercise. Only 10% were able to maintain long-term weight loss through diet alone, and only 1% did it with just exercise.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) held a roundtable titled “The Current State of Obesity Solutions in the United States,” in which I had the pleasure of participating. Its model—partnerships that span across public and private sectors—will be key to encouraging more consumers to take on balanced, lifelong, healthy habits. Rallying around one common goal, these cross-sector partnerships can create efficiencies when each organization focuses on its individual area of expertise.

Organizations such as the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF) are promoting ways to “balance calories in with calories out.” While the HWCF’s most recent milestone focused on the number of calories food brands have cut from store shelves in the past three years—a whopping 6.4 trillion—the group emphasizes that in order to meet its goal of halting the rise of obesity by 2020, fitness cannot be forgotten.

Groups like HWCF have made strides in reducing calories with tactics like reformulating products, developing new products and repackaging products to make the portions smaller. Despite this milestone, there’s still much that needs to be done, from better labeling to educating consumers about the quality, not quantity, of the calories they consume. And we must continue to emphasize the importance of physical activity, particularly among children, a constituency whose obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years.

Equally important, the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) aims to make “the healthy choice the easy choice.” It brings together the private and public sectors to target the nation’s youth to not only solve current childhood obesity, but to encourage children to adopt lifelong healthy habits. Knowing that physical activity has dropped by 32% in less than two generations, the PHA and its partners are working tirelessly to make physical activity more accessible, affordable and fun.

As we continue to encourage healthier habits and to cut empty calories, we need to look to these partnerships as a framework and think of ways to break through whatever clutter the latest diet trend could create. That’s why the GFF is partnering with the American Heart Association (AHA) to spread the word about heart-healthy eating. I am also excited to represent the GFF at the PHA’s Building a Healthier Future Summit in Washington, D.C., March 12-14.

At the GFF, we believe everybody needs grain foods to enjoy all life has to offer. Our website, GrainsForYourBrain.org, provides straight facts and common sense advice for living well. Throughout the year, we leverage our scientific advisory board members as a resource for how to maintain a nutritious diet and talk about physical activity and calorie expenditure. There are opportunities for the GFF and other like-minded groups to make an even greater impact on this side of the scale.

In the snack and bakery space, we can look for models on how to incorporate grain products into a healthy diet, in moderation. If we want to make an impact on the well-being of our consumers, we need to be part of the lifestyle conversation and expand our messaging beyond nutrition to help them understand how grain products fit into a healthy and balanced lifestyle.


Christine Cochran, executive director of the Grain Foods Foundation (GFF), is past president of a Washington-based trade association representing commodity futures exchanges and exchange participants. 

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