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New Obesity study from Synovate weighs food and fitness around the world


CHICAGO — The majority of respondents in a recent study from global market research firm Synovate on health habits around the world claim to weigh themselves infrequently, love fast food too much to give it up and are concerned about childhood obesity in their country but less so at home.

Synovate surveyed 13,155 people across 19 markets – Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Korea, Netherlands, Russia, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Turkey, UK and US - for its third ’Healthy Living’ survey to understand fitness, weight control and attitudes to food and health.


Across all markets surveyed, only 5% of respondents said they weigh themselves daily (5% male, 6% female), and 15% do this once a week. Thirty-six percent said they weigh themselves whenever they remember (Turkey 48%, Indonesia 45%, Argentina and China 43%) and, perhaps surprisingly in today’s more health conscious world, 22% claim not to weigh themselves at all.

Leading the pack was India, with 40% of respondents claiming not to weigh themselves at all, closely followed by Chile (39%), and Indonesia and Romania (both 38%).

Explained Paru Minocha, Executive Director for Synovate India: “Indians’ consciousness of fitness has not truly come into being. Indians are more or less complacent about health and fitness; only when there is an advent of illness or a medical emergency do Indians start taking their health and fitness seriously. It also has to do with the traditional clothing. Mass clothing is tailored and so a slight increase in size does not get noticed and, even among urban Indians, major changes in body weight usually take place after child birth or a certain age.”

Continues Minocha: “Indians would weigh themselves regularly only if there was a prescription from the doctor to lose weight to help avoid or get rid of certain illnesses due to weight gain. Otherwise, Indians are usually complacent and happy with their bodies.”

The more weight conscious scale hoppers, weighing themselves once a week, are respondents from Korea (28%), Argentina (26%) and Brazil (25%).

“Koreans, female and male alike, are very conscious about their appearance. Checking their weight and a following healthy diet is just one part of the story,” says Frank Jellinek, Business Development Manager for Synovate Korea.

“There is enormous social pressure to look good, and being beautiful is equal to being successful - this is stimulated by the looks of Korean celebrities. Fitness centres are growing like mushrooms, especially in the Seoul area. The other side of the story is, if you can’t run off your weight on a treadmill in one of the country’s sprawling gyms, you may opt for a short cut and join the 50% of Korean females in their 20’s who have had some form of plastic surgery,” Jellinek said.

However, the most weight conscious were the US respondents who weigh themselves daily (12% compared to the overall average of 5%).

Commented Greg Chu, Senior Vice President and Head of Synovate’s Custom Healthcare group in the US: “What’s interesting is that some health studies suggest that weighing yourself frequently can help you lose weight or better keep your weight under control. If so, Americans may be at the forefront of taking advantage of this insight.”

Piling on the pounds: Quick fixes, fad diets or a lifetime of calorie counting?

Low fat food products, weight loss promising supplements, meal replacements, metabolism-increasing medication – do we buy into these quicker fix options? For 40% of respondents, the answer is no (topped by respondents in Indonesia 66%, Singapore 55%, and India 54%). But for the others, the top three strategies that have been used or are being used to maintain or reduce weight are: Low fat products (32%), Low carbohydrate food products (16%) and Gym membership / exercise classes / personal trainer (16%).

Argentina has the highest percentage of respondents taking action, with 64% eating low-fat products to maintain or lose weight (followed by Denmark at 53%), 61% ordering smaller portions at restaurants or ordering a meal to share (followed by the US at 26% - overall across markets was only 12%), and 52% taking a gym membership (followed by Brazil at 31%) compared to an overall average of just 16%.

Diet plans such as Atkins, the South Beach diet and others are not popular across the board, with only 6% of respondents saying they use these, and individual market figures ranging from 2% to 12%. The exception was respondents in China whose take up of these diets is 23%, significantly higher than the overall average.

Food to soothe

Eating the ’wrong’ things can be comforting as 26% of respondents tend to eat junk food when feeling down, led by the US (47%), Canada (41%) and the UK (40%).

Commented Jill Telford, CEO of Synovate in the UK: “There’s nothing like a sugar or chocolate fix to make us happy, as many Brits know, and we have an enormous range of snack brands to delight and comfort us when we are feeling down or just need a boost. Bridget Jones and the Vicar of Dibley both demonstrate this in a humorous way. It may not be a coincidence that these markets indulging in comfort food are largely in the northern hemisphere, with the associated long winters and lack of sunlight, which are known to cause SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) syndrome.”

Added Chu in the US: “Particularly in these stressful economic times, the appeal of a cheeseburger at a drive-thru goes well beyond convenience to comfort. That rice cracker and fat-free yogurt may be fine for lunch when you are feeling totally zen, but for so many Americans these days, there is a lot to worry about, and they have more need for the comfort found in the simple things—like food.”

Thirty-nine percent of people surveyed agreed that life is too short to deny yourself whatever you want, even though it might be unhealthy. This was highest among respondents in Romania and Singapore at 55%, Korea (49%) and Argentina (47%).

Conversely, 84% of respondents agree that eating healthy food makes them feel better (led by Colombia, Egypt and Indonesia at 95%, and Brazil and Chile at 94%).

Fast food fanatics

What about fast food? It turns out that attitudes towards fast food haven’t changed much since Synovate conducted this same survey in February 2009. Almost one third (29%) of people surveyed across the 18 markets this year admitted to liking the taste of fast food too much to give it up. This year’s fast food fanatics are Saudi Arabians, with 58% of respondents agreeing that they like the taste of fast food too much to give it up, followed by the US (49%), Brazil (44%) and the UK (42%).

Contrary to this, 69% of respondents across the 19 markets included in the survey watch their food intake carefully and strive to be healthy. Interestingly, this is led by Brazil (along with Colombia) at 80%, which was also the nation with the second highest percentage of fast foods lovers.

Chile, Indonesia and Turkey are close behind, with 79% of respondents in each market claiming to watch their food intake.

A weighty issue: Who to blame?

The top answers from the survey respondents on who or what is to blame when it comes to weight were:

* Unhealthy food habits like eating at irregular hours (17%)
* Unhealthy food choices (17%)
* Lack of exercise (16%)
* No self-discipline / control (11%)
* Genetics / runs in the family (10%)
* Fast food (10%)

Across all 19 markets surveyed, 75% of respondents agreed that food companies (manufacturers and restaurants) have a responsibility to offer healthy food options. The highest level of agreement came from China (90%), Chile (87%) and Singapore (85%).

Conversely, 45% of respondents from Turkey and a third of Egyptians do not agree that food companies have a responsibility to offer healthy food options.

Opinions were also divided on the matter of whether or not food companies (food manufacturers and restaurants) offer enough healthy food options. While 48% of respondents across all markets agreed that they do - led by the Netherlands (71%), Indonesia (70%) and China (55%) – there was a firm sense of disagreement from Egypt (70%), Turkey (68%) and Korea (68%).

Tamer El Naggar, Managing Director of Synovate North Africa commented on the Egypt findings: “The most advertised food products are cooking fats (ghee & oil), beverages and processed meat products. The local cuisine is quite fatty and delivering on ”tastes like our parents/grandparents cuisine“ is a key message in local advertising. Healthier options can be perceived as a departure from ”authentic“ & true tastes. However, lately communication of healthy food and using healthy cooking equipment has taken place in the Egyptian market, targeting mainly niche socio economic classes.”

Obesity: Child’s play

Over a third (32%) of all respondents agree that they are worried about the issue of childhood obesity in their own home, with the strongest level of agreement coming from Brazil (82%), Chile (76%) and Egypt (75%). However, a much higher 58% of respondents agree that they are worried about the issue of childhood obesity in their country with the leading nations again being Chile (95%), Brazil (90%) and Egypt (80%).

On the other end of the scale, respondents in Denmark (83%), The UK (81%) and the US (80%) have the highest levels of disagreement with the statement ’I am worried about the issue of childhood obesity in my own home’, yet they do agree that they are worried about childhood obesity in their country (71%, 66% and 69% respectively).

Said Telford in the UK: “There is a lot of press coverage on childhood obesity in the UK, giving the impression that it is a major problem. This might explain the apparent contradiction in home and country perceptions of the problem by magnifying the latter.”

Added Chu in the US: “Childhood obesity appears to be one of those problems which people have an easier time recognising as a general problem than as a real issue at home. The term itself is one that many parents are reluctant to place on their own children.”

Overall, 61% of respondents agree that food companies can help prevent childhood obesity. This was highest in Colombia (88%), Chile (84%), and the UK (73%).

About the survey

This Synovate survey was conducted with 13,155 people across 19 countries - Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Korea, Netherlands, Russia, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Turkey, UK and US. The research methodologies utilised varied. Probability samples were used in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Turkey. Non-probability samples were used in Argentina, Canada, China, Denmark, India, Indonesia, Netherlands, Romania, UK and US.

For more details on the survey, including the questionnaire, specific methodologies used and sample sizes for each market please click here:

About Synovate

Synovate, the market research arm of Aegis Group plc, generates insights to help clients drive competitive brand, product and customer experience strategies. A truly borderless company with offices in over 60 countries, our ’biggest small company’ approach combines best in class global research capabilities with personalised service, local knowledge and the flexibility to create teams and processes that meet clients’ specific requirements. At Synovate, our clients sit at the top of our organisational chart, driving us to continually develop more innovative research solutions that predict actual business outcomes.

For more information on Synovate visit


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