As 2012 begins, the excesses from the festive period fade and a new year brings with it many resolutions of healthy living and weight loss for Brits, reveals that despite having the resolve, consumers may not know how to go about it. Indeed, just six in 10 (61%) UK consumers say that they know what they should and shouldn’t eat to lose weight – dropping to only 55% of men.

Furthermore, over one in 10 Brits (12%) say that”I’d like to lose weight, but I don’t know how”and just 41% say that they know how many calories a day they should consume. The number of adults who try to eat a low-fat diet has also dropped between 2008-11, from 44% to now account for 37% of consumers.

Alex Beckett, Senior Food Analyst at Mintel, said:

“Our research suggests that consumers are going on diets despite being uncertain about what they should eat. It also implies that advice surrounding calorie consumption is failing to register among a sizeable chunk of the population – especially men. This presents manufacturers with an opportunity to take the lead and help consumers understand the importance of calories via educational marketing activity. Consumers’ uncertainty about calories and what foods to avoid to lose weight stems from a wider lack of clarity about what is and isn’t healthy. To excite sales growth, diet food manufacturers must tackle this consumer confusion in a way that all people will relate to.”

Overall, the diet and weight control foods market is currently valued £1.6 million – by 2016, Mintel forecasts the market to grow 7% to £1.7 million. Today, half (50%) of consumers claim that “most of the time”they eat carefully to help control their weight. But in spite of the economic downturn and its aftermath, there has been little change in the number of consumers who have been on a diet, though the share of those who often go on diets has marginally declined, by 0.8 percentage points, between 2007 and 2011. However, the uncertain economic outlook may have an impact on future growth as consumers grow more concerned about their financial situation than their weight. Indeed, Mintel’s research reveals that”my own financial situation”was deemed a personal concern by 59% of adults in 2011 whereas “my health”was deemed a concern by just 41%.

“It appears that, living in a difficult economic climate, consumers are choosing to prioritise their finances over their health. This, coupled with low awareness about what should and should not be eaten to lose weight and eat healthily, presents a challenge for the industry to connect with these consumers.”Alex continues.

But it appears some habits are harder to give up than others and the research also reveals which methods consumers choose for weight management. The top five things consumers do to manage weight are: cut back on fatty foods (79%), cut back on sugary foods and drinks (75%), exercise more (66%), eat smaller portions (63%) – however when it comes to number five on the list – cutting back on alcohol – the numbers drop to just 44%.

It seems that having those close to you support your diet decisions can make all the difference too – as a quarter (25%) of Brits say that “It’s hard to lose weight when their partner or family eat normally”. And when it comes to exercise it appears that there is a regional difference. Londoners are the least likely to exercise more to lose weight, with 59% claiming to do so. They are followed by South West and Wales (62%), South East / East Anglia and East / West Midlands (both standing at 65%), North West (67%) and the North and Scotland (70%). Yorkshire consumers are most likely to exercise to lose weight with 75% claiming to do so.

Indeed, in a challenging set of circumstances for the diet and weight control industry, fewer consumers are looking for and using diet food and drink in 2011 than in 2007, with usage standing at 20% (down from 22% in 2007). Furthermore, less than half of men (48%) look for the five a day claim when looking for healthy food versus 61% women.

“Instead of paying out for foods which have been especially formulated with recipes that are lower in fat, sugar or calories than the standard variants, dieters are now more likely to simply exclude foods they see as unhealthy from their diet. In addition, more people report to have exercised more and even go tee-total than had chosen the very products developed to allow them to forego the calories, not the foods.”Alex concludes.

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