Emily Tan
Feb 7, 2012

Consumer study: More than half think they’re fat, want better nutrition info

GLOBAL – On average, 53 per cent of consumers around the world think they’re overweight, an increase from 50 per cent three years ago, according to a study by Nielsen. The Asia-Pacific region is not far behind, with 48 per cent reporting themselves too heavy.

Consumer-friendly labelling could be a powerful tool for marketers
Consumer-friendly labelling could be a powerful tool for marketers

To help manage their weight better, most consumers desire better nutritional labelling.

The report was based on a survey of more than 25,000 online respondents from 56 countries.

Regionally, the Middle East and Africa region has the lowest percentage of people who consider themselves overweight at 46 per cent, followed by Asia-Pacific at 48 per cent. The region with the highest number of overweight consumers is North America, where 63 per cent believe themselves to be overweight and 9 per cent (the highest) say they’re obese.

The report found that only a third of people worldwide consider themselves the right weight, down from 40 per cent in 2008. In Asia-Pacific, 37 per cent consider themselves just right, whereas only 32 per cent in North America think likewise.

As a result, nearly half the survey’s respondents (48 per cent) said that they’re trying to lose weight. The most popular method for more than three-quarters of consumer (78 per cent) is diet, followed by physical exercise (69 per cent). In Asia-Pacific, both these techniques are more or less on par, with 76 per cent of consumers improving their diets to lose weight and 74 per cent using physical exercise.

Europeans are keenest on diet, with 81 per cent choosing this method compared with only 62 per cent adopting exercise. North America and Latin America are the highest users of diet pills, at 14 per cent.

For those on a diet, the most popular way to drop the kilos, according to 701 per cent of global respondents, is cutting down on fats, followed by eating less chocolate and sugary foods (62 per cent) and taking more natural, fresh foods (55 per cent). Other ways to slim down include eating smaller portions (44 per cent), eating less processed foods (35 per cent), following a low-carbohydrate/high-fat diet (18 per cent). That last percentage doubled in the past three years.

The problem for most consumers is that they apparently struggle to understand the nutritional labels of the foods they’re trying to control. Nielsen found that nearly six in 10 global respondents have this difficulty, with 52 per cent understanding the labels ‘in part’ and 7 per cent not understanding them at all.

This lack of comprehension may have led to the low levels of trust consumers have for product labels. Of 10 different product claims studied, only three were believed by more than 20 per cent of consumers. Namely: calorie content at 33 per cent, vitamin content at 28 per cent, and fat claims at 23 per cent.

However, better comprehension of nutritional labels may not necessarily lead to greater weight loss. Consumers in North America, where obesity is highest, have the most confidence in their understanding of nutrition labels, with 57 per cent indicating that they mostly understand the details. This is driven primarily by US respondents, of whom 58 per cent say they understand the information, compared with 49 per cent of Canadians.

Asia-Pacific, however, has the lowest percentage of consumers with a full understanding of nutrition labels. Fewer than a third (31 per cent) are comfortable with the information, and this confusion is highest in the Chinese-speaking world and Southeast Asian markets. Just a fifth of consumers in Taiwan and Hong Kong (20 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively) and a quarter from China and South Korea indicate they mostly understand the labelling.

India, Australia, and New Zealand are the nations that report understanding food labels at rates that are among the highest in the study.

In the report, Nielsen concludes that marketers have an opportunity to appeal to consumers who have healthy eating on their minds. “Consumer-friendly nutritional labeling can be a powerful marketing tool as consumers are hungry for easy-to-understand information," the study authors wrote. "Clearly there is a need and an opportunity for more education to help reduce the skepticism that is apparent around all parts of the globe. And there is a need to offer tasty and healthful options to satisfy both the mind and body.”

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