Mintel’s annual Irish Lifestyles report highlights a significant rise in Ireland’s stress levels as the economic downturn sees financial pressure taking its toll on Irish health. Indeed, revealing an alarming increase in the levels of stress suffered by consumers today, as many as 35% of RoI consumers report a rise in stress levels. Meanwhile, those in the NI are also affected, with 28% of consumers there reporting an increase in stress levels. The report also sees stress driving consumers to food, with around one in seven (15% of NI and 14% of RoI) Irish consumers admitting stress is making them eat more than they should.

Brian O’Connor, Senior Consumer Analyst at Mintel, said:

“The economy may be improving, but the tight costs of living are still adding to Irish consumer pressure and are taking their toll on Irish mental health. Furthermore, this increased pressure is seeing consumers turn to comfort foods to cope, adversely affecting their health. Time pressure is leaving consumers with less time to cook and exercise, and as a result driving consumers towards convenience food which is often rich in salt and fat and a sedentary lifestyle.”

 

Weight and health – lack of willpower is a problem for nation’s dieters

Around two thirds (64% of NI and 66% of RoI) of Irish consumers say they would like to be in better physical health, pointing to a desire to be healthier. That said, some 31% of NI and 33% of RoI consumers admit that they worry more about their weight and physical appearance than actual health – pointing to a very body conscious society. Today, only 6% of NI and 5% of RoI consumers feel that willpower is required when sticking to a diet.

What is more, some 30% of NI and 32% of RoI consumers agree that not eating junk food is important to a healthy lifestyle. But while most consumers recognise that eating junk food is bad for their health, this does not stop them indulging. Indeed, 14% of NI and 11% of RoI consumers admit to eating junk food at least once per day, with younger consumers aged between 16-24 (30% RoI and 24% NI) being most likely to do so. Today, some 28% of RoI and 27% of NI consumers admit to feeling confused about what is healthy for them due to conflicting information on health foods and diets. Meanwhile, only 18% of NI and 12% of RoI consumers pay attention to colour coded nutrition labels. And when it comes to healthy eating, cost is a major issue, some 46% of NI and 47% of RoI consumers feel buying healthy food can be expensive.

“While the desire to be in better physical health is good news, without willpower to stick to diets and exercise regimes, it could be wasted time, energy and money on the part of consumers. If this attitude persists, the cycle of Irish consumers falling on and off the wagon in terms of dieting and exercising will continue. Costs of living in Ireland increased between 2012 and 2013, and this has put the squeeze on consumers’ grocery spending. With so many consumers perceiving healthy food as being expensive, if the trend for consumer prices to increase continues into 2014, it could see more consumers turning away from fresh goods, premium brand diet products, and more towards cheaper foods – that may not necessarily be healthy.” Brian continues.

 

The vices – drinking and smoking

Today, as many as four in ten (39% in NI and 42% in RoI) Irish drink alcohol on a weekly basis, and one in twenty (5% in RoI and 7% in NI ) drink every day. While two in five drink on a weekly basis some three in ten (29% of NI and 28% of RoI) consumers agree that they think that not drinking too much is important to a healthy lifestyle. And it is not just drink with which Irish consumers acknowledge the health risks. Some 51% of RoI and 52% of NI consumers note that they feel not smoking is a key factor in leading a healthy lifestyle, pointing to a high level of consumers recognising the dangers of tobacco products. Despite this, around a fifth of Irish (19% of NI and 22% of RoI ) consumers smoke at least once per day in 2013.

 

Friends are key to Irish happiness – but technology gets between friends and family

Mintel’s research also reveals the importance of friends and family to the nation’s happiness. Today, as many as 57% of RoI and 53% of NI consumers see a close circle of friends and family as being important for a happy life. Friends take preference over taking time to enjoy family life (41% of RoI and 39% of NI) and a good work/life balance (37% RoI and 38% of NI).

And it seems that for most Irish consumers, money isn’t the key to happiness, indeed, just three in ten Irish (31% of RoI and 30% of NI) see healthy finances as key to a happy life and less than a fifth (17% in RoI and 19% in NI) feel being prepared financially for the future will bring happiness.

While friends are key to the nation’s happiness, technology is having an impact on friendship with those who spend longer online being less inclined to care about friends and family. Some 61% of NI and 60% of RoI consumers who spend between one and three hours online per day agree that family is important. By comparison, only 33% of NI and 50% of RoI consumers who spend seven hours or more online feel family is important to their happiness.

“Consumers see their family and friends as important to their happiness, which should see demand for the likes of family holidays, and other family oriented leisure activities remain constant moving forward. However, the longer consumers spend online the less they seem to care about their families. If internet and technology usage continues to grow among Irish consumers, it could see many people becoming more isolated from their friends and family, as they forsake them for video games, social networks and other online activities.” claims Brian.

 

Finance – less than half of Irish have ok financial health

Today, just a quarter (25%) of NI consumers rate their current financial situation as ‘healthy’, compared to 17% of RoI consumers. The divide in financial circumstances is further highlighted by the number of consumers claiming their financial circumstances as struggling – while 6% of NI consumers (equating to approximately 109,000 people) claim this to be the case, this rises to 14% of RoI consumers (approximately 643,000 people). Less than half (46% of NI and 37% of RoI) consumers rate their financial health as being ‘ok’ – meaning they get by, but have little disposable income at the end of each month.

Attitudes towards debts and finances are shown to have ‘matured’, with some 53% of NI and 56% of RoI consumers saying they are trying to minimise their usage of debt. What is more, some 36% of RoI and 32% of NI consumers in 2013 feel that borrowing money should be a last resort. Finances appear to be weighing heavy on Irish consumers’ minds with some 14% of NI and 21% of RoI consumers claiming they are very concerned with their current debt levels. Consumers are also checking and managing their finances more regularly, over 29% of NI and 36% of RoI consumers check their banking facilities online at least once a week.

“This tighter management of finances means that overall Irish consumers will have greater financial health moving forward, being somewhat more aware of their money than in previous years.” Brian continues.

 

Technology and health – it’s a mixed bag

With technology playing a greater role in Irish lifestyles, Mintel’s research also examines its influence on consumers’ health. Indeed, health is a key concern to many Irish consumers, not just physical health but also mental health and indeed financial health. Around a fifth (17% of NI and 18% of RoI) of Irish consumers spend seven or more hours on the internet each day, a number which is increasing. Between 2009 and 2013, Mintel has seen a four percentage point increase in the number of NI consumers spending over seven hours online per day, and a six percentage point increase in RoI. Today, an average of six in ten Irish consumers (58% of NI and 59% of RoI) who own a smartphone, tablet or portable media device have downloaded games, making them the fourth most downloaded type of app.

Technology is having positive and negative effects on Irish health. On the one hand, 41% of RoI and 34% of NI consumers have looked up health advice online, but increasing amounts of time spent using technology for work and or entertainment are disrupting sleep patterns and encouraging sedentary lifestyles, taking their toll on both mental and physical health. And with more Irish consumers dedicating more of their day towards the internet and technology, this is leaving less room for activities that promote health and fitness, with 28% of NI and 37% of RoI consumers claiming to exercise at least once per day.

“While the internet allows people to quickly look up diet and health advice – as a leisure and work tool, it is a strong draw and helping to promote a sedentary lifestyle among Irish consumers, particularly young people, who are increasingly spending much more time playing video games and using social networks, compared to playing sport and being active.” Brian concludes.

 

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