'Tantas Curvas,' But Where's The Weight Loss Industry?

According to the American Obesity Association, overweight and obesity disproportionately affect Hispanics and African Americans. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control show that 72% of Hispanics, 84% of African Americans and 68% of non-Hispanic Whites are overweight or obese.

Interestingly, though, a recent health and wellness study conducted by Yankelovich found that only 63% of Hispanics consider themselves to be overweight or obese, and Mintel reports that Hispanics are  “more likely to self-report as being in good health” despite health statistics showing that Hispanics are more likely to suffer diabetes and other obesity-related conditions.  What gives?

“Real Women Have Curves”

Some of the discrepancy between perception and reality when it comes to weight may be due to a positive association with curves in the Hispanic culture, and a culture that refers to curvy women as merely “bien cuidadas” (well taken care of).  Even popular “piropos” (a sort of pick up line) often reference women’s voluptuousness: “Tantas curvas y yo sin frenos” (So many curves, and me with no brakes).  While Hispanics do often want to shed a few pounds, it’s usually not the thin supermodel that they have in mind when they envision their weight loss goals.



Different motivators

Regardless of their perceptions of weight and beauty, Hispanics are equally as likely as non-Hispanics to be dieting. Yankelovich reports that 43% of Hispanics say they are currently trying to lose weight, and 5% say they are currently using weight loss programs such as Jenny, Weight Watchers, Curves, Atkins, etc. 

So why do Hispanics want to lose weight?  In addition to the usual suspects (better health, more energy, to feel good), they are significantly more likely than non-Hispanics to say that they want to lose weight to have a good body, to look and feel younger, to feel more confident, and even to improve their sex life.

In need of good advice

It’s also possible that Hispanics just haven’t found a weight loss program that works for them. Yankelovich reports that Hispanics are 60% more likely than non-Hispanic Whites to say they’ve tried a couple of different weight loss approaches but haven’t found the one that works best for them. They are also significantly more likely than non-Hispanics to say that the biggest barriers to weight loss are that they can’t figure out the best way to lose weight and that they don’t know how to prepare nutritious meals.

Pharma companies and health organizations have taken note of the Hispanic obesity trend and the opportunities it brings, and are hard at work developing Hispanic-specific weight loss and healthy eating initiatives, especially related to diabetes.

Univision, also likely recognizing both the need and the opportunity for Hispanic-focused weight loss programming, just launched “Dale con Ganas” (Give It Your All), hosted by Alfonso de Anda, co-host of “Despierta América.”  The reality show series, which is very similar to “The Biggest Loser” and is coproduced by the same company, stars four Hispanic families who compete to lose weight, transforming their bodies and their lives at the same time.

Weight Watchers’ current choice of national spokespeople, Charles Barkley and Jennifer Hudson, suggest that the weight loss industry is starting to take note of the multicultural market. Yet, while weight loss has grown to be a $60+ billion industry in the general market, it strangely hasn’t yet fully capitalized on the growing (and growing) Hispanic market despite the fact that Hispanics themselves are active in the category.

With the exception of a few local weight loss programs, none currently advertises in Spanish-language media, and Bally Total Fitness is the only fitness brand currently spending in Spanish-language media. A lack of mass media spending shouldn’t indicate a total lack of interest in the market, however. Curves has digital efforts in Spanish, and Weight Watchers has a Spanish-language website, call center, and Spanish-language meetings in Hispanic-dense areas.

Simply having something in Spanish won’t be enough, however, to woo the Hispanic weight loss market.  An effective campaign will have to account for the cultural nuances that make the Hispanic perspective on weight loss unique.

  • Leveraging Hispanic celebrities and role models who have successfully lost weight without losing their curves will be an integral part of gaining Hispanics’ buy-in to a program.
  • Weight loss programs may need to consider playing up additional benefits for Hispanics. The emotional benefits of feeling younger, more confident, and sexier may be more influential to Hispanics than the more functional/health-related benefits. 
  • The weight loss programs that will win with Hispanics will be those that can best guide Hispanics in making healthy changes that still fit within the rest of their unique lifestyle.

Taking these nuances into consideration makes business sense, but it makes common sense too.  It could help 25 million overweight and obese Hispanic adults lose the weight they need in order to live happier and healthier lives.

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