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British and Irish people are the most likely in Europe to consider themselves overweight

Fewer Britons trying to lose weight than three years ago; physical exercise as weight-loss method declines in popularity
Sugar, salt, artificial flavours/colours biggest health factors in food purchase decisions
Britons most willing to pay extra for all natural, gluten-free and organic products

London, 10 February 2015 – People from the UK and Ireland are more likely to consider themselves overweight than people from anywhere else in Europe (32 key countries). Some 60% of Britons and 62% of Irish people consider themselves at least ‘a little overweight’, according to the Global Health and Wellness Survey from information and insights company Nielsen.

Broken down, 22% of Britons consider themselves ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ overweight, while 38% say they’re a ‘little’ overweight; 33% consider themselves ‘about the right weight’ and 6% say they’re underweight.

The study, which polled more than 30,000 Internet respondents in 60 countries, shows that most people in Europe (52%) consider themselves overweight, while Polish (35%) and Russian (40%) people are the least likely to regard themselves overweight.

Fewer people trying to lose weight
Fewer than half (46%) of Britons surveyed are trying to lose weight compared to 51% three years ago. Despite being the second most likely people in Europe to think they’re overweight, Britons are only joint 17th when it comes to trying to lose weight among the 32 European countries covered in the survey. Israelis (57%) are the most likely to be trying to lose weight, Latvians the least likely (37%).

Among Britons trying to lose weight, changing diet (82%) is the most popular method for losing weight (slightly down from 84% three years ago) followed by doing physical exercise (66%, down from 72%).

The percentage taking diet pills/bars/shakes has more than doubled (from 3% to 7%), while taking medicine prescribed by a doctor has doubled (from 2% to 4%).

“Not only are fewer Britons trying to lose weight, it seems they’re slowly becoming increasingly reliant on easier fixes at the expense of harder work such as changing diet and exercise,” comments Nielsen’s UK head of business and retailer insight Mike Watkins.

Among Britons changing their diet, eating less chocolate and sugar (72%) is the most popular tactic followed by cutting down on fats (70%) and eating more natural, fresh foods (53%). Eating smaller portions of the same foods is cited by 43%, while 37% eat less processed food. Around one-in-10 follow a low-carb/high-fat diet (9%) or another diet (11%), while 8% use a slimming plan such as Weight Watchers.

Compared to Europeans, Britons are twice as likely to use a slimming plan and 28% more likely to cut down on processed foods, but are 40% less likely to follow a low-carb/high-fat diet to lose weight.

Sugar, salt, artificial additives biggest health factors in purchase decisions
When asked to rate how important various health attributes are in affecting the foods and products they buy, 31% of UK respondents cited ‘low or sugar free’ as very important followed by ‘low salt/sodium’ (29%), ‘no artificial flavours/colours’ and ‘natural flavours’ (both 28%).

“Britons regard sugar, salt, artificial additives, cholesterol and fat as the biggest health-related evils impacting which products they buy,” says Watkins. “Conversely, natural flavours, being made from fruit or vegetables, whole grain, fibre and protein are the most important ingredients to encourage purchasing.”

He adds: “Britons, however, are much less likely than Europeans – and people globally, as a whole – to let health attributes of food products affect what they buy. For instance, food being free from genetically-modified organisms is a very important factor to 47% of Europeans in their buying decision – more than twice the number of Britons (22%).”

Among the 27 food-related health attributes covered in the survey, Britons are most willing to pay a premium price for products that are ‘all natural’, gluten-free or organic. Britons are much less likely to pay a premium for healthy attributes in foods than Europeans as a whole.

The future
Given the importance attached to “good-for-you” products, these are the most strongly positioned for growth in the future. Over the next six months, Britons are most likely to buy (from a choice of 25 food categories covered in the survey) more fruit and vegetables (25%), nuts/seeds, seafood (both 16%) and yogurt (12%).

Salty snacks are most likely to see a decline in purchasing (cited by 32% of respondents) followed by chocolate, biscuits and cakes/crackers/pies (all 28%), sugar sweets (25%), ice cream and ready to eat/frozen meals (both 23%).

About the Nielsen Global Survey

The Nielsen Global Health & Wellness Survey was conducted between 13 Aug. and 5 Sept., 2014, and polled more than 30,000 consumers in 60 countries throughout Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and North America. The sample has quotas based on age and sex for each country based on its Internet users and is weighted to be representative of Internet consumers. It has a margin of error of ±0.6%. This Nielsen survey is based only on the behaviour of respondents with online access. Internet penetration rates vary by country. Nielsen uses a minimum reporting standard of 60% Internet penetration or an online population of 10 million for survey inclusion. The Nielsen Global Survey, which includes the Global Consumer Confidence Index, was established in 2005.

About Nielsen

Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA, and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit