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Obesity blame game offers market opportunities

By Sarah Hills , 30-Oct-2008

Consumers are shifting blame for obesity problems in the US on to food manufacturers, saying they should provide healthier products and holding them more responsible than fast-food firms, according to analysts.

Meanwhile marketers need to unlock this widening market to get a firm understanding of obese consumers and their self-perceptions which may be “key” in helping create products that address the obesity problem, said a Nielsen Consumer Insight report called A Widening Market: The obese consumer in the US.

It described better nutritional labeling on packages and more health awareness programs in schools as “no-brainer” strategies. And it urged creative thinking, highlighting a“clear opportunity” to effectively target overweight or obese people with messaging that spoke to their mindset, as well as educating them.

Although people in the US take a great deal of responsibility themselves for weight gain, they believe that food companies are partially responsible, according to the author Doug Anderson, EVP, Research & Development, Nielsen Consumer Panel Services.

About three-quarters of consumers believe that “people are encouraged to eat less-healthy food by advertising, and that these companies should provide healthier food”.

The report added: “Fast-food companies, on the other hand, get off surprisingly easy and are not seen as nearly as important a player in the obesity blame game as food companies.

“In the survey, fast-food companies and the government fall into the second tier of blame.”

This indicates a shift in attitude compared to a previous Nielsen LifeChoices study in 2006 where 82 percent of American adults acknowledged an individual's responsibility in weight gain, while two percent placed the biggest blame on food companies and six percent on fast food restaurants.

Consumer segments

Based on Body Mass Index, over 32 percent of Americans are now obese. By demographics non-Hispanic blacks have obesity rates over 40 percent higher than the US average, according to figures from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Hispanics rank second, with a rate 10 percent higher than average.

Women represent 54 percent of the obese population and among men and women it peaks in the 55 to 64 age group.

Nielsen suggests that the length of time a person has been overweight, or felt themselves to be, is key to self perceptions and attitudes.

For example older consumers who have grown heavier over the years tend to be more concerned about it than younger consumers who are already heavy.

It said: “A deeper understanding of the present and future consumer is necessary in order to design programs and products that not only educate consumers, but fit their lifestyles and needs.”

A recent Credit Suisse report estimated that revenue related to obesity products in the consumer staples sector, which includes food and beverage companies, would reach $1.4 trillion globally by 2012, with average annual growth of 9.3 percent from 2008.

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