The United States recently staggered through a political crisis brought on by the country’s ever-growing public debt. Something else is growing, too, and at a rate almost equally alarming: Americans themselves. We’re all getting fatter, and we’re getting fatter faster.

The reasons are obviously complex; as many experts will tell you, if this were easy, we’d have solved it by now. The problem seems to arise from an interplay of lifestyle, psychological, metabolic and food choices – factors that have proven impervious to simple solutions. Nevertheless, like those legislators who are, however ineffectually, chipping away at the U.S. debt, we’ve got to start somewhere.

Despite the large and growing market out there (pun intended), the weight-loss category has suffered in recent years. According to Nutrition Business Journal, sales in the category finally returned to pre-2003 levels in 2010. Disappointments such as ephedra, Hydroxycut and hoodia created a fog in the category that only now seems to be clearing. Sales of meal-replacement products led the way in 2010, with pill-form supplements retrenching slightly. And low-carb seems to have almost disappeared as a marketing strategy, so much so that NBJ no longer tracks it as a distinct category.

A recent report from Health Focus reveals that 60 percent of primary food shoppers in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Shoppers admit that they eat too much, and they say they eat too many snack foods, too.

“While consumer health awareness is increasing and consumers express growing concern about overweight and obesity, there remains a disconnect between attitudes and actual behavior when it comes to dealing with weight issues,” said Caroline Brons, senior marketing manager at DSM Nutritional Products.

Set on satiety

So one way for manufacturers to help consumers is to dial in on one factor, and in a category that has been thin on innovation in recent years, one that stands out is satiety.

One ingredient in this category is DSM’s Fabuless, a patented oil-in-water emulsion that works by simulating the body’s ‘ileal brake’ response. “This signaling mechanism creates a natural feeling of satiety and reduced hunger feelings. Clinical studies have shown that Fabuless helps you to eat less and reduce calorie intake by up to 30 percent,” Brons said. Fabuless formulates well in foods, and has also been launched as a liquid supplement.

Another set of satiety ingredients that have seen some movement recently are those derived from potatoes. In March, Cyvex Nutrition introduced SolaThin, a potato extract consisting of low molecular weight proteins, including the protease inhibitor PI-2. This molecule induces a signaling response that triggers a feeling of gastric fullness, according to the company.

Kemin Industries has its own potato extract, Slendesta, which works on a similar principle. “Slendesta promotes satiety and hunger control and can be used as part of a healthy lifestyle in managing one’s weight,” said Corey Schwartz, marketing communications specialist at Kemin.

Satiety solutions tend to be housed in food-based delivery systems, which make a certain amount of sense. “When you consume a functional food or beverage, it also tends to give a feeling of physical satiety and in many cases reduces the urge to eat more as one feels full,” said Vaibhav Shetty, manager of corporate projects at Indfrag Ltd, in India. “When taking a pill this effect is missing and one may end up eating a lot more calories, which defeats the purpose.”

Fiber fuels the food solution

There are different trends and R&D lines on this issue. For food companies – and even beverage concerns – fiber-filled gums have been gaining cache recently. Other fiber sources include multi-tasking prebiotics like inulin, resistant starch, or the oligosaccharides FOS and the new player, XOS, short for xylooligosaccharides. “Fiber is better for Westerners compared with Easterners due to their different dietary custom,” notes Jason Peng, sales manager at Shandong Iognlive Biotechnology in China, a supplier of XOS.

Block it, or burn it

Other avenues include the traditional diet product approach of boosting metabolism as well as the somewhat newer idea of blocking the absorption of certain kinds of calories such as carbs or simple sugars. In the area of thermogenesis, the longstanding choice has been caffeine, even more popular now that ephedra is history. Another choice is bitter orange extract in the form of AdvantraZ, marketed by NutraTech. As far as carb blocking goes, one choice that has a long market history and a thick science dossier is Phase 2, a white bean extract manufactured by Pharmachem.