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It’s Not Just About the Scale: How Worldwide Consumers Aim to Get Healthy
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It’s Not Just About the Scale: How Worldwide Consumers Aim to Get Healthy

As we enter another new year, people all over the globe commonly vow to change the things in their lives that they feel need improvement from the previous year. Shedding some extra pounds was common among the 30,000 online respondents polled for Nielsen’s Global Health & Wellness Survey, as nearly half (49%) indicated they are overweight, and a similar percentage (50%) said they’re actively trying to lose weight. So what diet methods are most popular?

The majority rely on tried-and-true methods to lose weight—diet and exercise. Three quarters of global respondents who are trying to lose weight plan to change their diet, and nearly as many (72%) plan to exercise. Comparatively, low percentages of respondents use other methods to shed unwanted pounds: 11% say they take diet pill/bars/shakes, 7% use medicine prescribed by their doctor and 6% use other methods not described in the survey.

Consumers around the world are attempting to take charge of their health by making more healthful food choices, and it isn’t just about losing weight, as roughly 75% believe they “are what they eat.” Additionally, nearly 80% are using foods to forestall health issues and medical conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension. In response, manufacturers are reformulating products to eliminate or reduce the sugar, cholesterol, trans and saturated fat and sodium content of food, but there’s room for continued action. Innovative manufacturers should also explore new product formats that incorporate fruits and vegetables, fiber and protein, as well as the use of emerging nutrients such as probiotics.

“There is a tremendous opportunity for food manufacturers and retailers to lead a healthy movement by providing the products and services that consumers want and need,” said Susan Dunn, executive vice president, Global Professional Services, Nielsen. “While diet fads come and go over time, innovative, back-to-basics foods that taste good, are easy to prepare and provide healthful benefits will have staying power. The first step is knowing where to put your product development efforts.”

Natural Foods with Beneficial Ingredients are Most Desirable

When it comes to the foods we eat, consumers are going back to the basics. We asked respondents to rate health attributes from very important to not important in their purchase decisions. The top desirable attributes are foods that are fresh, natural and minimally processed. Forty-three percent of global respondents consider foods with all natural ingredients and those without genetically modified organisms (GMOs) very important—the highest percentages of the 27 attributes included in the study. In addition, about four-in-10 global respondents say the absence of artificial colors (42%) and flavors (41%) and foods made from vegetables/fruits (40%) are very important.

In addition, consumers are looking for functional foods that provide benefits that can either reduce their risk of disease and/or promote good health. Thirty-six percent of global respondents rated foods that are high in fiber as very important, and about three-in-10 seek foods that are high in protein (32%), have whole grain (30%) or are fortified with calcium (30%), vitamins (30%) or minerals (29%) to fulfill their nutritional needs.

Less is more for roughly one-third of global respondents, who say it’s very important that foods are low in cholesterol (38%), salt (33%), sugar (32%) and fat (30%). In addition, about one-quarter believe the absence of high fructose corn syrup (26%) and caffeine (23%) is very important, and one-fifth rate foods that are gluten free (21%) as very important.

Environmental and socioeconomic concerns also factor into purchase decisions. One-third think sustainably sourced (35%) and organic (33%) ingredients are very important in their purchasing decisions, and more than one-quarter (26%) say local herbs/ingredients are very desirable.

The report also discusses:

  • How attitudes about health attributes in foods are different around the world.
  • Consumers’ willingness to pay a premium for health attributes in food.
  • Which product categories are growing in sales and which are in decline.

For more detail and insight, download Nielsen’s Global Health & Wellness Survey.

About the Nielsen Global Survey

The findings in this survey are based on respondents with online access across 60 countries. While an online survey methodology allows for tremendous scale and global reach, it provides a perspective only on the habits of existing Internet users, not total populations. In developing markets where online penetration has not reached majority potential, audiences may be younger and more affluent than the general population of that country. Additionally, survey responses are based on claimed behavior, rather than actual metered data.