A. Elizabeth Sloan

Healthy Weight Loss
The New Year and bathing suit season are traditionally the times of year when Americans focus on weight control. And armed with a dramatically different set of motivations and methods, they appear to be doing just that!

According to the NPD Group’s October 2004 “19th Annual Report on Eating Patterns in America,” the percentage of overweight Americans held at 62% for the second year in a row. Until 2002, the percent of overweight Americans increased every year since 1995. One-quarter (27%) of consumers say they are conscious of the calories in their meals, the highest level since 1999. In addition, the number of snack meals eaten per person per year was 250 for the year ending February 2004, little different from 5 years ago at 253.

But the motivations for weight loss are changing, and so are the opportunities for food marketers. According to the Food Marketing Institute’s November “Shopping for Health 2004” survey, 59% of primary shoppers—those who generally shop for the household—want to lose weight. Preventing health problems later in life was the No. 1 reason cited by 77% of these weight-conscious shoppers; 54% said they wanted to manage a current health problem. Traditional weight-loss reasons ranked lower: boosting self confidence 44%, stay sexually attractive to spouse/partner 23%, and to look younger 20%.

Food products that offer more than simply low-calorie and low-fat formulations and help to reduce cholesterol levels or manage high blood pressure (HBP) will find a welcome market. According to FMI, although 48% of primary household grocery shoppers report themselves as overweight and 19% as obese, 43% also say that they or someone in their household suffers from HBP, 37% high cholesterol. Diabetes affects 21% of shoppers, osteoporosis 14%, and food allergies 15%. In fact, 60% of shoppers say they or someone in their household has at least one of these diet-related health conditions. The likelihood of having one of these conditions increases with shoppers’ age and body weight. For example, the incidence of HBP among shoppers age for those age 18–25 is 21% and for those age 59+ is 62%.

According to the Natural Marketing Institute, among the general population, 41% of consumers are trying to lose weight for health reasons and 46% for appearance, and 74% are trying to prevent gaining any more weight. Most important, NMI reports that the health-directed diet market is growing at 2½ times the rate of the appearance-focused market. The compounded annual growth rate is 10.5% for appearance dieting and 25.4% for health-related weight loss.

As America’s eating habits move toward moderation and carbohydrate avoidance moves mainstream, tried-and-true lifestyle changes, not surprisingly, have regained their position as the most popular means of weight control. According to NMI, regular and consistent exercise (used by 38% of the general population), followed by smaller portions at mealtime (35%), and making a slight lifestyle change (30%) topped the list of the most frequently used methods in 2004. They were perceived to be extremely/very successful by 52%, 43%, and 37% respectively, of those who used them. Controlling sugar intake (27%), eating less carbohydrates (24%), a low-fat diet (23%), and eating smaller but more frequent meals (22%) were slightly less popular but still considered successful by 43%, 41%, 39%, and 40% of users, respectively. Only 16% of consumers used a meal-replacement drink to lose weight, while only 15% counted calories—although one-third of those who counted calories, and only 17% of meal-replacement users—said it was extremely/very successful for weight management.

And when it comes to diets, consumers aren’t taking any chances. Information Resources Inc.’s “MedProfiler Health & Wellness Survey” reported that 60% of consumers were very concerned about their weight and took action in 2004: 40% tried 2+diets in the past year, 30% a low-fat diet, 20% a low-cal diet, 20% a low-carb diet, and 20% a low-salt and -sugar diet. Perhaps most exciting are new findings from IRI that overweight households have dramatically different food purchasing habits than non-overweight households. For example, overweight households are more-frequent consumers of frozen appetizers, barbecue sauce, bread crumbs, and sugar substitutes.

The battle for health dieters’ attention is just beginning. Clearly, frozen calorie-controlled dinners with high sodium levels or weight-loss bars with nearly 200 calories no longer fit the bill. With Multi-Sponsor Surveys projecting that heart disease will increase by 24% by 2013, diabetes 20%, HBP 19.5%, arthritis 19.4%, and cholesterol 18.5% among men and 18.9%, 17.6%, 18.0%, 17.3%, and 17.9%, respectively, among women, health-directed dieting will remain a significant market for the decade ahead.

Contributing Editor
President, Sloan Trends & Solutions, Inc.
Escondido, Calif.
[email protected]