Around the world, roughly 75% believe they “are what they eat”—a sign that today’s consumers are tapped in to the latest health trends. With global obesity rates climbing 28% in adults over the last 30 years*, people are striving to lose weight and improve their quality of life.
In fact, nearly half (49%) of global respondents in Nielsen’s Global Health & Wellness Survey consider themselves overweight, and a similar percentage (50%) is actively trying to lose weight. But men and women are not necessarily aligned with the steps they take in the battle of the bulge.
While it may not come as a surprise that men and women perceive their bodies and overall wellness differently, discrepancies extend into the ways both genders seek to improve their health—from their exercise habits to the foods they eat.
When it comes to weight worries, common stereotypes prevail. Women are more likely than men to perceive themselves as overweight. More than half of women around the world (54%) believe they are overweight, compared with 45% of men. And it logically follows that more women are trying to lose weight (56% of women vs. 44% of men), but the actions women take to drop the pounds differ from those of their male counterparts.
To lose weight, both men and women prefer to adjust their diet and exercise over diet pills, bars and shakes or medicine prescribed by a doctor. However, women are 9 percentage points more likely than men to opt to change their diet (79% of women vs. 70% of men) while men are 6 percentage points more likely to choose physical exercise (75% men vs. 69% women) to slim down. When it comes to dietary changes initiated to lose weight, more women are cutting down on chocolates and sugar (64% vs. 58% of men) and eating more natural fresh foods (60% vs. 53% of men). Meanwhile, more men are cutting down on fats (66% vs. 63% of women) and following a low-carb diet plan (27% vs. 23% of women).
Beyond losing weight, many consumers are taking additional steps to improve their overall health. The majority of both genders actively make dietary choices to help prevent certain conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertenstion. However, men generally take a more physical role when it comes to getting fit than women—more than three-quarters of men (77%) exercise or play sports on a regular basis, compared with 68% of women.
When it comes to shopping for food, both genders are equally likely to choose local, natural and organic alternatives whenever possible (77% each). And men and women are both highly aware of what they’re eating, with 75% of men and 76% of women claiming to read packaging labels carefully for nutrition content.
However, men appear to be more discerning in choosing where they shop, and they are more willing to sacrifice taste to get what they want. A higher percentage of men say they mostly shop for foods at specialty retailers that sell a wide variety of healthy foods than women (68% of men vs. 60% of women). And more men (65%) are willing to sacrifice taste for a healthier option than women (59%). Women, on the other hand, are more judicious when it comes to choosing foods, with 71% believing that processed foods are unhealthy, compared with 65% of men.
So what health factors are men and women looking for—or avoiding—when buying food?
While all food attributes are not equally important to everyone in the path to purchase, those with all natural ingredients and without genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are each considered very important to 43% of global respondents—the highest percentages of the 27 attributes reviewed in the study. While both attributes rank equally high with men and women, they’re slightly more important to women than men.
In fact, women are generally more likely than men to consider health attributes as important influences in their food purchases. In particular, “less-is-more” attributes—such as no artificial colors or flavors and low or no fat, calories, sugar or salt—are more important to women than men. Furthermore, wholesome attributes, such as foods with all natural ingredients and those made with vegetables, fruits and whole grain are also more important drivers for women’s shopping habits than those of men.
Understanding how men and women perceive their own health differently, as well as how their shopping choices vary, is important for marketers, advertisers and retailers seeking to reach these consumers.
The insights in this article were derived from the Nielsen Global Survey of Health and Wellness, which was conducted between Aug. 13 and Sept. 5, 2014, and polled more than 30,000 online consumers in 60 countries throughout Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and North America.
*According to the 2013 Global Burden of Disease Study.