Half of Global Consumers Overweight

January 22, 2009

This article is included in these additional categories:

Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Asia-Pacific | CPG & FMCG | Europe & Middle East | Pharma & Healthcare

Fully half (50%) of respondents in 52 countries around the world say they consider themselves overweight and plan to improve their diet, health and fitness during 2009, finds a Nielsen survey.

Another 10% of consumers say they are underweight, and also plan to address the issue.

The research indicates that there is a global appetite for improving health through better diet and exercise. Of respondents who say they are making efforts to lose weight, 69% plan to exercise more and 78% say they will change their diet:


  • 69% say they will cut down on fats
  • 65% plan to cut down on chocolates and sugar
  • 53% will eat more natural, fresh foods
  • 46% vow to eat the same foods but having smaller portions
  • 29% resolve to eat less processed food.
  • Fewer than 10% turn to other diet plans such as the low carbohydrate/high fat Atkins Diet, Weight Watchers or other slimming programs.

Regional Differences

“While some issues such as weight loss are global, there are decidedly different views and approaches in different regions,” said Jonathan Banks, business insight director at The Nielsen Company.

North Americans are most likely to identify themselves “very overweight” with 6% of respondents providing that answer. That is double the response in Emerging Markets (3%) and about 30% higher than Asia Pacific or residents of Europe. 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.

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

Exercising Options

Consumers in every region report plans to combine changes in eating and increased exercise. 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 (14%) as North Americans (6%) or Europeans (7%) to use diet pills/bars/shakes to help shed pounds.

When it comes to the exercise option, results proved counterintuitive, Nielsen said. 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. according to the survey. The reasons for this might be better overall diets and a lifestyle which promotes walking and features fewer sedentary jobs, Nielsen said. 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,

Healthy Eating

In four out of five regions, dieters say 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 feel they already consume a healthy diet, with North Americans alone in acknowledging they could do better – only 14% believe their current diet plan is healthy.

Confusion Rampant

Roughly half of consumers were confused by the barrage of sometimes conflicting diet and healthy eating information available in the marketplace, the study found. When asked where they got the best information about diet and healthy eating:

  • 68% cited doctors and medical professionals.
  • 36% turned to the internet
  • 34% counted on TV programs and documentaries.
  • 29% read books on diet and nutrition.
  • 25% rely on the nutritional information on packages.
  • 17% turn to family.
  • 14% found information in magazines.
  • 13% use newspapers.
  • 11% base decisions on information from friends.
  • 5% get information at the purchase site in supermarket brochures and flyers.

About the research: The survey was conducted online at the end of September 2008 as part of Nielsen’s Global Online Consumer Survey series that periodically track global trends and regional preferences.

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