US Weight Worries are Low

May 19, 2011

An IFIC study recently found that Americans despite an obese majority, are less worried about their weight than ever before.

A multi-year study, conducted by the nonprofit International Food Information Council (IFIC), recently found that this year less Americans are worried about their weight than last year. The researchers, as are we at the Lempert Report, were surprised to find that concern about weight loss and overall perception of personal healthfulness is at an all time low. This is especially shocking because nutrition and leading a healthy lifestyle are of top mind in most food discussions both for shoppers as well as the food industry and certainly the White House.

The IFIC study found a plurality of respondents, 42 percent, do not even count calories, and on top of that more people admit that they’re not trying to balance the number of calories they eat and burn. Yet calories are the first thing that the participants said they look at on a nutrition label. The study also found that 43 percent of Americans say they are sedentary as compared to last year’s 37 percent.

Fewer people in the survey considered themselves to be overweight (50 percent in 2011 versus 57 percent in 2010) but their reported weights and heights place them in the overweight category. Based on height and weight calculations, 34 percent are considered overweight and 34 percent are considered obese. It may be time to look in the mirror. Also alarming is that 57 percent of participants are concerned about their weight, which is down from 70 percent last year.

This study is alarming, we in the food industry need to continue the fight against obesity; one of the first steps is to help individuals recognize the problem, and empower them to use the tools to gain back their health. If we continue down this path, what’s next? 66 percent of Americans are currently overweight or obese, costing billions in health care expenditures. This study is clearly a call to action for all Americans. Our government, food industry and other groups are wasting 100s of millions of dollars trying to get healthy weight messages across and obviously they are not working. We need to hear clearly what consumers are saying.

These survey respondents (as expected) reported that taste is the number one factor when choosing foods followed by price – the healthfulness of food ranked in third.  How can we empower Americans to recognize their issue and loose weight? We need to demonstrate portion sizes, have more group activities (think of the success of weight watchers), more streamlined and easy to understand health and weight management information. This is about long-term behavioral change, not a quick fix! Perhaps people are getting tired of hearing about getting in shape and that’s why they have “given up” – but it is no excuse and not acceptable.