Window Weight

Making Sense of Big Shifts in Thinking About Weight

For some time, we’ve known that people are thinking about weight differently. Last week, JAMA made it official. In a research letter, Kassandra Snook and colleagues describe a trend of fewer adults with excess weight and obesity trying to lose weight.

A 17% Drop People Trying to Lose Weight

The value of this new research is that it confirms something that market researchers have known for some time. Obesity and weight loss are intensely personal, emotionally charged subjects. People fudge when talking about their weight. Actions don’t always match up with what people say in surveys.

So it’s helpful to have attitudinal data stretching from 1988 to 2014 matched with actual measures of height and weight. The data come from NHANES and the methods are solid.

Snook et al found a steady drop in the percent of people with excess weight and obesity trying to lose weight. They saw the strongest trends in populations most severely affected by obesity. The largest declines occurred in weight loss efforts among black women.

Nothing New to Marketers

This revelation is nothing new to marketers. Weight Watchers has been dealing with this reality for years now. Enrollments in their classic weight loss programs were dropping like a rock when they launched a major effort to reposition the brand. “Beyond the Scale” was the tagline that opened their turnaround. They are continuing it with a promise to help people “Live Fully.”

It’s been a pretty neat trick. Weight Watchers has taken their brand from focusing almost entirely on weight to a focus on life and health beyond weight.

Food marketers likewise figured out some time ago that consumers are more interested in “healthy lifestyles” than in diets and weight loss. These insights drive consumer trends in food and nutrition.

Meanwhile, public health folks are playing catch up. Finger wagging and soda taxes might not work as well as consumer insights and smart social marketing.

Click here for the study from JAMA and here for more from NPR. For more on the Weight Watchers turnaround, click here.

Window Weight, photograph © Bob Scott / flickr

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March 13, 2017