It’s only February, and New Year’s resolutions are already waning. But it’s no wonder, according to an article by two Cornell University researchers. They found that even those with the best intentions can be derailed daily by environmental cues that subconsciously erode willpower. Such cues are significantly impacting the obesity epidemic in the U.S., the authors suggest.

The article concluded that the throw-down between willpower, on the one hand, and cheap food and big portions, on the other, is a mismatch. David Levitsky, PhD, professor of nutritional science and psychology, and graduate student Carly Pacanowski studied hundreds of articles on eating behavior. They found that environmental factors such as cheap food, big portions, ease of access to unhealthy food and lack of healthy food in deprived areas collectively represent forces over which individuals have little control.

Daily weight monitoring can counter these unhelpful influences and heighten awareness of unconscious eating, according to the authors. They also suggested that the government should play a role in combating the obesity epidemic by subsidizing fruits and vegetables and making low-calorie foods cheaper.

The article, “Free Will and the Obesity Epidemic,” will be published in an upcoming print edition of the journal Public Health Nutrition.