Food Intake, Obesity Handled Differently, Same World Over

Ever eat too much, regret it, and then go out and eat too much again a short time later? Welcome to the world. According to new research from market research firm Synovate, people around the world have surprisingly similar - and conflicting -- attitudes and behaviors when it comes to managing their weight.

"There are definitely differences in what people do to control their weight," Edward Murphy, SVP of Synovate's retail restaurant practice, tells Marketing Daily. "The interesting thing is, there are some similarities."

According to the survey of 9,000 people in 13 countries, about a third of the respondents weigh themselves regularly. Half of all Americans and half of the French check their weight once a week or more. Among Americans, 12% weigh themselves every day, while 20% weigh themselves once a week. Surprisingly, 20% of American respondents said they never check the scale, which is about in line with the global response.

Culturally, there are some different attitudes about obesity and its root causes. Globally, a combined 40% of the respondents said people's relationship with food was the biggest culprit, with 20% attributing it to food choices and another 20% attributing it to bad habits like eating at irregular hours.



Another 18% said it was a lack of exercise, while 13% said obesity was caused by an individual's lack of self-discipline. In the U.S. and the U.K. -- two of the countries with the highest obesity rates -- 20% and 21%, respectively, said lack of self-discipline was the leading factor in obesity.

However, the research showed a contradictory attitude toward food, with more than half - 54% -- of respondents saying they eat whatever they want, whenever they want. At the same time, 68% of the global respondents agreed that they watch their food intake and strive to be healthy. In the U.S., more than half of the respondents did not agree with the practice of eating what and when they wanted. But only 55% said they monitored their food intake and strove to be healthy.

When it comes to managing their weight, consumers around the globe have very different attitudes. Consumers in places like Romania and Malaysia were more likely to take herbs and supplements to help manage their weights, while consumers in the U.S. and around Europe were more likely to change the foods that they ate or reduce their portion or intake of foods. However, around 40% of the global respondents said they did nothing do maintain their weight, Murphy says.

Exercise also played a different role in different countries. About one third of consumers in the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates exercised at home, while another 21% of Americans said they belonged to a gym. About 19% of Americans were also willing to use meal replacement products while trying to control their weight.

Surprisingly, Americans were not the leaders of using weight-loss courses and memberships such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. According to the survey, those products are most popular in the U.K. and Saudi Arabia, where 10% of the respondents reported having used them. The U.S. and Australia were not far behind, with 9% saying they had used them.

"Seeing how much we promote them and how big they are, I would have thought they would have been more popular in the U.S.," Murphy says.

Continuing the contractions, both Americans and Britons said they "liked the taste of fast food too much to give it up." Surprisingly, the U.K. came in as the most fast food-dependent nation, with 45% of the respondents unwilling to give up their fish and chips.

In the U.S., 44% agreed with the statement. Canadians came in third, with 37% agreeing with the statement. (The French were the least addicted to fast food, with only 19% saying they couldn't give it up.) "Consumers are giving in to their guilty pleasures," Murphy says. "Society is fast-paced today, and fast-food companies are catering to that."

Ultimately, marketers of food and diet products should note not only that there are cultural differences and similarities when it comes to food and weight management, but also that consumers around the globe try more than one tactic when managing their weight, Murphy says. "People do different things in combination," he says.

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