Redefining what is healthy

by Staff
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The concept of health and wellness has undergone dramatic changes during the past three decades as food technology, consumer demographics, consumer definitions of what is healthy, and medical science have evolved. Obesity remains a key driver for the growth of the global health and wellness market, but new segments of the market based on the latest scientific findings are continually emerging.

"The definition of health and wellness in Europe is primarily the same definition as in the U.S.," said David Carpenter, chief executive officer of Chr Hansen North America, a global supplier of ingredients. "People are trying to manage their health through what they eat, whether it includes functional foods, low fat, low carb, organic, etc."

This stands in stark contrast to how the concept of health and wellness was perceived a decade ago. It was primarily associated with weight loss and diet; a person’s health was defined by how they looked rather than how what they ate impacted their blood pressure, cholesterol levels and even the levels of stress they experienced.

Six years ago the Worldwatch Institute, Washington, reported that for the first time in recorded human history the number of overweight people in the world rivaled the number of underweight people. It was a moment that cast a spotlight on a disconcerting trend: Consumers, primarily those living in industrialized nations, were eating too much.

As researchers have investigated the underlying causes of obesity, their effects on health, and obesity’s financial impact on consumers as well as local and federal governments, initiatives have been launched to improve consumer health and wellness. However, despite the attention paid to the topic, obesity rates, particularly among children, have continued to rise.

Barbara Katz, general manager of HealthFocus International, said consumers have developed newer definitions for health and wellness.

"There will still be a segment of consumers who are always going to be dieting," she said. "That is fairly constant. There are about 65% of people who have dieted to lose weight in the past year; a figure that was consistent from 1990 through 2004. What is changing is they are more concerned now about the outcomes of being overweight than they are about being overweight.

"The way I would put it is the concept of wellness, which we have seen evolve over the last couple of years, is a lifestyle. It is more encompassing as opposed to health, which is about feeling good. Health may be one aspect of wellness. You don’t have to have health to have wellness. Consumers will tell us things like "as long I’m happy" … there are a lot of emotional facets to wellness."

The global health and wellness market is driven by factors specific to each country, but there are some universal trends that are common to almost all markets, according to a report published by Euromonitor titled "The World Market for Health and Wellness Products." The trends include an awareness of deterioration in personal health led by busy lifestyles with poor choices of convenience foods and insufficient exercise. The awareness is media-amplified, but rests on the huge amount of health data available in the public realm.

The principal driver for the health and wellness market, continued the Euromonitor report, is both an increasing need and demand for health and wellness products. Chronic diseases currently account for 60% of global deaths and are now seen as one of the greatest challenges to economic development.

Mr. Carpenter, Chr Hansen’s c.e.o., said age will play a factor in how the health and wellness markets continue to evolve.

"Take younger kids as they grow up, for example," he said. "They are going to be more educated about nutrition than baby boomers, because they are being exposed to more information.

I think children will have a better understanding of what the impact will be of what they consume. They are also more open to trying new things, like tastes, colors and textures."

Rising average incomes also have helped drive the health and wellness market, according to Euromonitor. Consumption habits long have been a marker of class and status, and health and wellness is no exception. While "better-for-you" versions of existing products have seen sales rise on a "substitution for weight loss or health benefit" strategy, functional, organic and some naturally healthy products have seen sales rise as a result of their premium positioning.

"This simplification of wellness is part of a larger social trend to embrace personal pleasures and comforting values," said Ms. Katz, the general manager of HealthFocus International. "Consumers anticipate that being happy makes them healthier, and that when they take better care of their health, they are better able to be happy."

So what does that mean for companies when they are marketing or developing healthy products and communicating their benefits? The HealthFocus research indicates companies need to speak to weight loss as a means of managing the consequences of being overweight. These consequences could be social, health related, financial or as simple as realizing the positive results of losing weight.

For example, communicating that a product may help manage tiredness or may help achieve benefits such as increased energy, are stronger messages than the promise of losing pounds.

"Manufacturers must also realize consumers feel a strong sense of entitlement," Ms. Katz said. "They want great taste and better nutrition, luxury and affordability, natural with convenience, and fresh and fast. Companies must make the healthy choice the irresistible choice rather than the virtuous choice."

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