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Tipping the Scales on Weight Management: Challenges and Tactics

tipping the scalesAmerica continues to be a nation of overweight — and obese — consumers. More than six in ten (63 percent) American adults are overweight (31 percent are overweight; 32 percent are obese). Compared to the 1950s, when modern dieting culture began, being “heavy” is now the social norm and much less stigmatized than in the past. Today’s new enemy for consumers is obesity, not merely being overweight.

While it may be more socially acceptable to be overweight, consumers realize it is a serious health issue that requires personal action. In fact, according to The Hartman Group’s Weight Management and Healthy Living 2015 report, over half of America’s consumers (56 percent) are trying to lose weight.

Consumers acknowledge they are primarily responsible for their own weight and are more holistic in their approaches to managing weight. More than eight in ten consumers (85 percent) say they are solely responsible for their own weight. But in order to tip the scales in their favor to achieve weight loss goals and live healthier lifestyles, they must overcome any number of challenges.

A Very Different Cultural Landscape

We’re in a new era of obesity understanding and weight-management methods. Weight management is increasingly not as much about short-term efforts as it is about permanent dietary alterations.

Optimizing one’s health, especially as one ages, is a primary driver of weight-management behavior in America. As a result, we have evolved from a weight-management culture of purely crash dieting to a culture more open to permanent dietary alterations along a set of lifelong healthy guardrails. Medical diagnoses and poor bloodwork results are a growing trigger for urgent action among consumers, but rarely does a medical scare alone cause behavioral change unless consumers also have a strong social accountability mechanism for dietary alteration.

Weight loss is tough. Daily eating routines are fraught with challenges when one’s trying to watch his or her weight. As the following chart depicts, among those consumers trying to lose weight, almost half (49 percent) struggle more with (lack of) exercise and more than a third (36 percent) say it’s a matter of stick-to-itiveness.

Challenges to managing weight

Aspirations to lose weight get tossed to the wayside by comfort foods for 36 percent of consumers, and consumers eat more when bored, depressed or stressed. What else gets in the way of meeting weight-loss goals? Wanting to eat more than a single serving (35 percent), eating too many carbohydrates (31 percent) and frequent snacking (31 percent) are big culprits.

While Americans see themselves as responsible for their own weight — almost nine in ten consumers (88 percent) agree with the statement “I am personally responsible for choosing the right foods, not manufacturers” (an increase of five percentage points from 2010) — the belief in the role of genetic predisposition is significant and growing as well. More than one-third of consumers (38 percent) say that genetics is behind their current weight (an increase of eight percentage points from 2010).

What Works? Weight Management Strategies

Although most consumers point to portion control as a key weight-management tactic, we find that the tactics perceived as most successful (drinking water, exercise, cooking more instead of eating out) are not very popular among those trying to lose weight. This is because of known cultural barriers to all three, though some barriers to exercise appear to be coming down (especially for females).

But the tactics perceived as most successful for weight loss are actually not very popular, as the following table illustrates.

tactics for losing weight

A substantial minority of consumers currently eliminate one or more categories from their diet to manage their weight. Elimination is a tactic with growing appeal because it is easy to know if you’ve done it (unlike portion control) and the results can often be dramatic.

The newer approach to weight loss through more permanent dietary alterations is accelerating consumer discussion of the undesirable nature of “processed foods” in general, which will increasingly challenge companies whose portfolios are weighted to these kinds of foods.

Weight management and healthy living report coverFor the most in-depth data and insights into understanding the current state of weight management, purchase the report. Click here (or on the image) for more information and to order: Weight Management and Healthy Living 2015 report




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As leaders in the study of American food culture, The Hartman Group has been tracking how Americans shop for food since the 1990s. From one-stop shopping to multichannel shopping to online markets and click-and-collect, we continue to track consumers’ evolving perceptions, needs, habits and relationships with food retailers. New to the 2017 report is a special section on the expansion of the discount grocery channel, the emerging fresh-format channel and smaller-footprint retail formats.


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