Huge opportunity in weight-management industry: TNS study

MUMBAI: Asian women differ in their perception of being overweight but there is a huge potential in the weight-management industry. These are the primary findings of a study by TNS, one of the world's leading market information groups, providing market measurement, analysis, insight and advice in more than 110 countries.

The findings of a study on obesity in Asian women conducted by the healthcare arm of global market information company TNS indicate that women in China and Hong Kong think they are heavier than they actually are; women in Malaysia and Indonesia are heavier than they think.

The survey, which was conducted amongst women between the ages of 15 and 64 in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia, sought to determine Asian women’s perception of their actual weight versus their ideal weight.

TNS Healthcare Asia Pacific regional director Stephen Potts was quoted as saying: “Asia clearly presents huge opportunities to companies involved in weight management. Only if these companies truly understand the mindset of the customer in each country and tailor their marketing approach to the needs of each market will they be able to capitalise on these opportunities.”

A press release issued by TNS says that almost half (44 per cent) of the women interviewed in China and Hong Kong felt that they were overweight. However, based on a calculation of their Body Mass Index (BMI), only a quarter were overweight or obese according to the World Health Organisation’s Asian guidelines, which meant a BMI of 23 kg/m2 or more. Furthermore, a fifth of the respondents were actually found to be underweight, highlighting a worrying trend in these countries for excessive weight loss.

The opposite was true in Indonesia and Malaysia, where whilst only 25 percent of women interviewed thought they were overweight, BMI calculations indicated that over a third actually were. TNS believes that education is required in these countries to inform women of the weight that they should attain and the risks associated with excess weight.

Although Chinese and Hong Kong women were often dissatisfied with their weight, only about one in 10 had done something about it. However, a quarter claimed that they would try to lose weight within the next six months. In contrast, Malaysian and Indonesian women were more satisfied with their weight, but about one in five of those who were unhappy with their weight tended to take steps to lose weight.

The TNS note also states that the main methods used to lose weight were reducing calorific intake, snacking less and exercising more. Hong Kong (74 per cent) and Chinese (79 per cent) women were most likely to exercise and this represents a huge opportunity for gyms and fitness centres in these countries. Women in Indonesia seemed less keen on exercise (21 per cent). Slimming teas (33 per cent) and OTC weight-loss pills (26 per cent) are big business in China, as are international weight-loss programs (15 per cent).

Interestingly, says the TNS study, for the pharmaceutical industry, one in 10 Hong Kong women and one in eight Chinese women intended to consult their doctor about weight loss within the next six months. The study also points out that the Slim 10 scandal in Asia has clearly hit confidence in OTC weight-loss pills. If the manufacturers of prescription anti-obesity drugs could tap into this consumer trend; and further convince consumers that prescription anti-obesity drugs are safe, they may enjoy some success in these countries.

Overall, the research among women in the four countries showed that China and Hong Kong present very different opportunities for manufacturers of anti-obesity products than Malaysia and Indonesia. Although Chinese and Hong Kong women were less likely to be overweight or obese, they were more likely to believe that they were.

In these countries, companies offering weight-loss services and products must be particularly careful to promote their anti-obesity products ethically and not encourage excessive weight loss. Interestingly, other research by TNS Healthcare revealed that doctors across the world, including China and Indonesia, believe that currently available prescription anti-obesity preparations are relatively ineffective. The challenge for the industry is to develop products that are more effective – and remain effective in the long term.

In contrast to Hong Kong and China, obesity levels in Indonesia and Malaysia were high and work needs to be done to educate and motivate overweight women to lose weight for health reasons.

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