Stress prevention replaces weight management as top health concern, creating marketing opportunity

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty / Motortion
Source: Getty / Motortion

Related tags anxiety stress Weight management coronavirus Hartman group

For the first time in a decade, weight management is no longer America’s top health concern as anxiety and stress prevention and treatment rise to the No. 1 position of a long list of health conditions with which households are grappling, according to new research from The Hartman Group.

As of January 2019, 63% of US households are actively treating or preventing anxiety or stress – a 13 percentage point increase since 2013 that allowed the combined conditions to edge out weight management, which rose only 4 percentage points in the period to include 61% of households either treating or preventing it, Shelley Balanko, senior vice president at The Hartman Group​, told attendees last week at a virtual conference​ hosted by Whole Foods Magazine and Trust Transparency Center.

She added that treatment and prevention of fatigue and depression also increased significantly in January 2019, up 8 percentage points to 52% and 9 percentage points to 46%, respectively, since 2013. This is further reinforced by other research by The Hartman Group that found slightly more consumers (88%) considered mental and emotional well-being to be dimensions of health and wellness compared to those who listed physical well-being attributed (87%).

“This led our analysts to conclude that we’re living in an age of anxiety – and this is pre-COVID-19 pandemic,”​ which likely has continued to elevate the importance of mental health and stress management in American households, Balanko said.

She added that Millennials and Gen Z are more focused on mental and emotional health issues, such as managing fatigue, depression, anxiety and stress. Baby Boomers are much less likely to be actively treating mental health and tend to focus more on lifestyle and age-related issues, instead, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, chronic joint pain, diabetes and osteoporosis.

Despite the generational divide, the overall reshuffling of health priorities to elevate mental and emotional health paired with pressure from the coronavirus pandemic and social unrest have created significant marketing opportunities – especially for products that promote sleep and comfort.

The ‘catch-22’ of sleep and stress

Recognizing that the relationship between stress and sleep is “a bit of a catch-22”​ with sleep helping to reduce anxiety and anxiety compromising sleep, Balanko said consumers increasingly are looking for supplements and functional foods that will help them relax.

For example, she said, 52% of households are managing fatigue and 32% report getting less sleep than they’d like four or more days per week. Only 20% of households report getting as much sleep as they like every day.

She also noted that the time when consumers prided themselves on being able to multitask and go for long stretches with little or no sleep “has passed,”​ and “now mainstream consumers have understood that going without sleep for a long stretch of time is very risky behavior and they understand that sleep can affect their bodily systems, their emotional health and their relationships as well,”​ she said.

She added that consumers also understand “tactics for stress prevention are within their control.”

For example, she noted, consumers increasingly seek functional foods and beverages with ingredients such as hemp oil, melatonin, reishi, magnesium and other adaptogens which are incorporated for their calming and sleep-inducing properties.

The potential for foods and beverages in the space can be seen in part through consumer use of supplements to manage stress and anxiety (16%) and sleep or rest (22%), she added.

Provide comfort and control

Consumers also increasingly are turning to food for comfort and a sense of control – two ends of a spectrum that offer marketing opportunities.

“We certainly saw food take a central role in how consumers are managing their anxiety and their immune response around COVID-19 with a lot of consumers going into that retreat and regroup approach by relying on comfort foods,”​ Balanko said.

“There is a lot of baking going on. A lot of mac and cheese being made. A lot of sourdough starters and cookies,”​ she added.

On the flip side, however, she noted, “consumers were also seeking out very nutrient dense foods so that they were assuring themselves of the highest quality nutrition to support their immune function.”

Ultimately, she concluded, what these trends and marketing opportunities reveal is that “a modern approach to wellness really involves thinking about our bodies holistically, but also compassionately.”

Navigating the new normal: NPD and the evolving consumer landscape

Unlocking Innovation first webinar

Dr Balanko will be sharing more insights into how consumers are responding to the pandemic at the first webinar in FoodNavigator-USA's global Unlocking Innovation webinar series​ ​on June 29, which also features experts from Mattson, General Mills and ADM.

Signing up gives you access to all of the webinars (when you get the confirmation email, select those you are interested in and add them to your calendar.) Register HERE​​.

The US-focused events are:

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