Insights

Global Resolution Eat Right, Exercise More
Article

Global Resolution Eat Right, Exercise More

By: Jonathan Banks, Business Insights Director, The Nielsen Company

SUMMARY: While weight loss strategies vary by region, the world’s consumers will start the New Year looking for the right combination of alternatives to lose excess weight. Approaches range from changing their diet, to working out, consuming diet pills, bars or shakes, and taking prescription weight loss drugs.

Year after year, it leads the list of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions: lose weight. Close behind on the “most popular resolutions” list are promises to get fit (#5) and to eat right (#6). Perhaps it’s just the human condition to be dissatisfied with one’s physical appearance, but regardless of the reason, according to a Nielsen 52-country global survey, 60% of the world’s population is struggling with their weight — 50% with overweight and 10% with underweight issues.

Tactics for paring pounds vary: cutting down on fats (69%), cutting down on chocolates and sugar (64%), eating more natural, fresh foods (53%), eating the same foods but having smaller portions (46%), eating less processed food (29%). Fewer than 10% turn to other diet plans—the low carb/high fat Atkins Diet, Weight Watchers or other slimming programs.

North Americans recognize their tendency to overindulge

Regional profiles

North Americans recognize their tendency to overindulge and self-identify as the most “very overweight” region (6%), double the incidence reported by Emerging Markets (3%) and about 30% higher than Asia Pacific or Europe residents. On the opposite end of the scale, the “most underweight” regions include Asia Pacific, where more than half of respondents scored themselves as “underweight” (12%) or “about the right weight” (41%), Latin America and Emerging Markets.

Interestingly, despite the fact that Asia Pacific has the highest percentage of self-reported underweight citizens, that region also had one of the highest percentages of folks trying to lose weight (53%). Latin Americans reported the highest percent trying to lose weight at 57%.

The losing journey

Do consumers walk the walk or just talk the talk when it comes to weight loss? Far and away, the tough-to-execute, but proven slimming combination of diet and exercise was the weight loss recipe of choice in every region. Asia Pacific residents struck a balance between the two tactics, with 77% changing their diet and 73% exercising more. North Americans were more prone to attack diet issues first at 84%.

Emerging Market consumers were more than twice as likely to use diet pills/bars/shakes

On a surprising note, Emerging Market consumers were more than twice as likely (14%) as North Americans (6%) or Europeans (7%) to use diet pills/bars/shakes to help shed pounds.

Diet dilemmas

Changes in food consumption led the way in the fight against fat, with fat being the operative word. Cutting down on fats was the most popular method used to control weight in every region except Europe, where reducing chocolate intake dominated.

Another reducing technique was to eat more natural and fresh foods—the consistent third choice across all regions except in North America, which placed this method as fourth. North Americans would rather eat the same amount, but have smaller portions, which ranked fourth as the most popular tactic for all of the other regions.

When it comes to exercise, results proved counterintuitive

Pumping up

When it comes to the exercise option, results proved counterintuitive. North Americans claim to be the most overweight of any region, yet they self-report the highest levels of exercise, with 70% stating they work out at least once a week or more. Conversely, Asia Pacific residents do the best job of managing weight, but exercise less than any other region, with 58% saying they work out at least once a week.

Emerging Market natives were the most likely to claim that they never exercise, yet maintain good body weight. The reasons for this might be better overall diets and a lifestyle which promotes walking and features fewer sedentary jobs. Walking is far and away the exercise of choice in all five regions, followed by working out at the gym in four of five regions, Asia Pacific residents prefer running or jogging.

Healthy eating

How can people eat more healthily? In four out of five regions, dieters said they would be more likely to cut down on some food groups to achieve balance. The sole exception was Asia Pacific, where survey respondents said they would eat the same food groups, just in greater moderation.

Roughly 20% of participants in four regions felt they already consumed a pretty healthy diet, with North Americans alone in acknowledging they could do better—only 14% believed their current diet plan was healthy.

Concerned and confused

Roughly half of consumers were confused by the barrage of diet and healthy eating info available in the marketplace, much of it conflicting.  Doctors and medical professionals were cited as the most credible source of healthy eating information by 68% of respondents, followed by the Internet (36%), TV programs and documentaries (34%), books (29%), nutritional information on packages (25%), family (17%), magazines (14%), newspapers (13%), friends (11%) and supermarket brochures and flyers (5%).

Consumers agree that “fish is good for me”

Something fishy

Nutritionists know that fish is an excellent source of low-calorie protein without the lipid issues of red meat. Consumers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that “fish is good for me” (88%), and that “fish is healthier than meat or chicken” (66%). That makes it the perfect food for those who are watching their weight. On average, families around the world dine on fish about 1.6 times per week. Consumption in the Philippines is off the charts, roughly twice the global average rate.

Fish is a particularly popular home menu item in Asian countries, representing 10 of the 12 highest fish-consuming areas: the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and China. The coastal countries of Portugal and Spain round out the fish-friendly list.

Upstream battle

Folks reluctant to feast on fish complain that they “don’t like the taste”, “don’t like the smell”, “don’t like the bones” and find that it’s “too expensive”. Frozen, prepared fish may eliminate many of these objections, including a concern with how to properly cook a fish entrée.

Industry experts expect fish sales to increase swimmingly given the universal concern with weight issues, the link between meat animals and global warming, heart health considerations, and the growing vegan and locavore movements.