Over the past year and a half, health has became a top priority for many Americans as they have navigated the spread of the coronavirus, which simultaneously posed a new threat and underscored those posed by underlying health conditions. Together, these factors took a toll on how many in the US perceive their health, according to New Hope’s 2021 Changing Consumer Survey.
The survey of more than 1,000 adults conducted in June revealed that Americans are significantly less satisfied with their health now than they were before the pandemic. In June, only 8% of respondents said they were extremely satisfied with their health and 46% reported being satisfied. This is down from pre-pandemic in 2017 when 20% reported being extremely satisfied and 47% said they were satisfied with their health.
“There’s probably nothing quite like a pandemic to shake your confidence in your health,” Arthi Padmanabhan, market research manager with New Hope, told attendees at Natural Products Expo’s virtual event July 14. “And there’s ample reason to feel this way. Researchers project that COVID-19 reduced US life expectancy by over a year in 2020, based on data published in February this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And even as the threat of fatality has decreased in 2021, it stands to reason that reduction in life expectancy may persist – especially across race and ethnic lines because of the long term social, health and economic impacts of this pandemic.”
How consumers evaluate ‘healthy’ falls along generational lines
At the same time that consumers’ confidence in their health has been shaken, they are thinking differently about what it means to be healthy, Padmanabhan said.
“Younger consumers tend to prioritize introspective measures when gauging health. They rank experience and emotional measures, like how does my body fee, how do I feel emotionally. Whereas Boomers tend to be a little bit more numbers-oriented, [and focused on] fact-based measures like BMI, weight, blood pressure,” she explained.
Shifts in how consumers think about health also influences what aspects of health they are prioritizing now compared to pre-pandemic, Padmanabhan said.
“Given how cerebral and introspective those rising consumers are and inward seeking for some of these solutions, it’s no surprise that state of mind conditions – especially stress and mood – concern these youngest generations,” she explained, pointing to survey results that found 63% of Gen Z respondents said stress topped their health concerns and 51% of Millennials listed mood as their top health concern.
Older consumers remain focused on more traditional and physical health priorities, according to the survey, which Padmanabhan noted aligned with their ongoing reliance on “metrics” and hard data. For example, 47% of Gen Xers and 46% of Boomers listed weight as their top health priority followed by mood for 40% of Gen Xers and general health by 45% of Boomers.
Weight loss remains a top concern across the board
While weight loss and management was less of a concern for younger consumers than Boomers, Padmanabhan noted that it is still a top concern across all generations – but how each group evaluates their weight is different, which in turn will influence how they respond to marketing around weight management products and programs.
Again, she noted, “Gen Z and Millennials will be leading with experience and emotion, does my body feel good? Am I happy with myself? Whereas, Gen X and Boomers are more likely to be more numbers driven."
Another generational difference that mirrors this divide is how frequently and where consumers look for health information, Padmanabhan said.
Older consumers seek health information much less frequently and are more likely to turn to health care providers and pharmacists. For example, the survey found 45% of Boomers said they sought health and wellness information only ‘sporadically,’ followed by 16% who said they did so a few times per year.
On the other hand, 24% of Millennials and 22% of Gen Xers reported seeking health and wellness information weekly and were more likely to turn to registered dietitians, pharmacists, family and friends than Boomers.
Strategies to engage with consumers around health
These shifts signal new opportunities for retailers and brands to engage with consumers around their health, Eric Pierce, vice president of consumer insights at New Hope Network, told attendees.
He explained that health messages will continue to appeal to all consumers, most of whom are looking for information and solutions. But those looking to attract younger consumers will have better luck with messages focused on stress, mood, energy and sleep, while leveraging dietitians and health care providers will help reach all age groups.