Leading diet and weight loss plans have boosted their success and market presence with enormous commercial enterprises that include retail establishments, websites, and book and software products, along with branded diet food products. The food products available from such leading weight loss plans include food bars, drink mixes, breakfast cereals, shelf-stable or frozen lunch or dinner ready meals, as well as nutrition, calorie, and portion-control snack and dessert products of all types. Diet food products may be further tagged with claims such as “light” or “lean,” as well as more specific descriptors such as “low-fat” or “fat-free” (as with milk or cottage cheese), “low-sugar” or “sugar-free” (as with diet sodas or chewing gum), or both low-fat and low-sugar (as with yogurt products). For consumers interested in diet foods and beverages, the notion of convenience is key. In addition to portable and quick-serve products, convenience means a wider range of diet food and beverage options more widely available at retail—and options that stand up against general-market fare in both taste and convenience.
Within the U.S. market, the marketing and consumption of diet foods takes place in the context of a national obesity crisis. Obesity in the United States has risen steadily for half a century, and at epidemic rates during the most recent decades. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. adult deaths each year are attributable to unhealthy dietary habits, as well as health problems caused by physical inactivity and sedentary behavior, such that obesity ranks as a leading cause of preventable death in United States. Obesity is found worldwide, of course, but the prevalence of these conditions in the United States ranks at the highest levels among developed nations.