(Jan. 8) Has America reached the tipping point on obesity?

Widespread publicity about overeating and excess weight represents the No. 1 food-related story of 2003, according to a recent national survey of 1,300 food editors.

The survey, conducted by the Hunter Public Relations, New York, revealed obesity and related news topped food issues like the Atkins Diet, transfatty acids, the South Beach Diet and nutrition labeling in restaurants.

Does the publicity about obesity mean that Americans plan to do something about obesity, or will the story fade into the background from overexposure?

The Hunter Survey said food editors believe consumer lawsuits against food companies were signs of discontent with the high-calorie and low-nutrition nature of today’s food choices.

Food companies have acted in a variety of ways to respond to consumer concerns. For example, Kraft Foods announced July 1 that it was capping the size of single-serve portions and eliminating in-school marketing.

Another step to defeat obesity has been increased emphasis on fruits and vegetables on restaurant menus and in schools, said Elizabeth Pivonka, president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Wilmington, Del.

The addition of premium salads to the menus at Wendy’s and McDonald’s was a counterpunch to the public’s negative nutritional image of fast food, she said.

What’s more, Pivonka said the recently televised ABC Prime Time special on obesity is further evidence of a much higher awareness of obesity in the media and the general public.

She said the issue isn’t gong to go away; in fact, Pivonka said the attention devoted to the issue may help, obesity reach a “tipping point” in industry and government. The tipping point represents the point when popular opinion and the political will converge.

“We are going to start to see some changes,” she said.