Ready-to-eat desserts such as cakes, cookies, pies, doughnuts, and pastries add a significant amount of energy, sugar, and saturated fat to Americans' diets, making them a strategic target for cultural pundits and the scholars who arm them with epidemiological papers looking to lay blame for obesity.

But fast food portion sizes have not gone up since 1996, so those can't be blamed, and a new study finds that people are buying a lot fewer cakes and pies. It may be time to think about individual responsibility and stop declaring war on wheat, sugar or whatever will be the fad in 2015.

Scholars from the University of North Carolina examined if changes have been made to the nutritional content of manufactured treats and to determine what the consumer trends were. The results found that there has been little change in the nutritional content between 2005 and 2012 but consumer purchases declined by 24% during that same time period.

The donut business may soon need a government bailout if purchases keep declining. Credit: Shutterstock

Reformulating existing packaged treats to provide healthier content presents many hurdles for manufacturers, such as replicating taste, appearance, and texture and new products coming to market are not much better nutritionally speaking than their old counterparts - the only alternative is to outlaw food choice and an increasingly intrusive federal government already has the public on edge. That leaves front-of-package labeling systems to try and shift consumer purchases towards alternatives.

The authors noted that the 24 percent drop can have unexpected drawbacks - at least in the world of academic consumer behavior. The authors worry that pre-cooked desserts could get a 'health halo' if their components were healthier, which creates something of a false landscape where the only choice is banning even more food. Or companies could try and deceive customers for their own good. 

"Stealth reformulations by which changes in the product composition are conducted unbeknownst to consumers is one option to circumvent this issue," said lead author Dr. Kevin C. Mathias, a recent graduate of the Nutrition Department at the University of North Carolina.  

 Published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.