Marketers Set Sights on Obese Americans

NEW YORK Obesity is more prevalent in the U.S. than ever before, and marketers are taking notice. Many are actively changing their strategies to create products and messages that appeal to this segment of the population.

According to NielsenHealth, U.S. households with at least one obese member spend 9 percent more than the average American household on over-the-counter medications, 10 percent more on health and beauty care products, and almost 17 percent more on total medications and remedies. (Adweek is a unit of the Nielsen Co.)

Obesity sufferers tend to live in low-income households, with incomes of less than $20,000 per year, and are more likely to be middle-aged (45 to 64 years old). These households tend to be located in less affluent towns and rural areas (39 percent).

On average, households with obese members are more willing to buy generic or private label brands. They also purchase 20 percent more low calorie carbonated soft drinks than the average U.S. household, and are more willing to buy prescription drugs from outside the U.S. in order to save money.

As marketers turn their attention to this once overlooked demographic, Americans are also turning an eye inward to examine the causes of the country’s obesity epidemic.

According to a 2008 Nielsen survey, 81 percent of U.S. consumers “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that weight gain can be attributed to eating too much and not exercising enough.

What’s more, 68 percent of consumers “disagreed” or “disagreed strongly” with the statement that they cannot find healthy food in their grocery store.

Consumers also told Nielsen they hold food companies and their advertising partially responsible for America’s obesity epidemic. Almost three-quarters of consumers believe that advertising by food companies encourages people to eat less-healthy food, and that these companies should provide healthier food.