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Let Food Be Thy Medicine: Americans Use Diet to Manage Chronic Ailments
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Let Food Be Thy Medicine: Americans Use Diet to Manage Chronic Ailments

Editor’s note: The data in the infographic has been updated to reflect the total number of U.S. households who have an ailment sufferer managing their condition with diet, as opposed to a smaller sub-segment of those households.

Transparency. Rising health care costs. Technology access. While these factors are driving consumers’ growing focus on personal health and wellness, the rapidly aging U.S. population is another macro trend that retailers and manufacturers can’t afford to ignore. As of 2015, there were 48 million adults over age 65—accounting for 15% of the total U.S. population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, that figure is projected to reach just under 56 million by 2020 and more than 65 million by 2025.

Today, the Nielsen Ailment Survey reports that 48 million households have an ailment sufferer who manages with diet. As the population ages, we will likely see a corresponding increase in chronic diseases and ailments. While managing these ailments in many cases requires taking medication or visiting health care professionals, consumers also realize that proper nutrition plays a vital role in prevention. According to Nielsen’s Global Health and Ingredient Sentiment Survey, 70% of consumers around the globe—and 60% of Americans—said they actively make dietary choices to help prevent health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol.

But as retailers and manufacturers identify how to best engage with the chronic disease consumer, it’s important for them to understand which ailment sufferers are more likely to manage with food. To learn more about this, Nielsen conducted a study that identified the top five ailments where diet is actively used to manage symptoms: obesity, diabetes, lactose intolerance, gluten negative, and Chrohn’s disease. In addition, in order to better tailor communication tactics, optimize product assortment, and develop in-store support plans, the study provides insights into the ailment sufferers’ household’s demographics, the top product label claims and the top indexing foods across the store they purchase.

As chronic disease and ailments become more of a focus, and as sufferers determine the best approach for managing their conditions, it will become increasingly important for the industry to understand this consumer. Because the ailment management process involves the total store, retailers and manufacturers have an opportunity to engage with this consumer not only in the pharmacy and over-the-counter medication sections, but in the food aisles as well.

The infographic below provides a snapshot of the top five ailments identified in the study, and how these ailment sufferers use food as medicine.