The study was conducted by global market research firm Synovate and had more than 9,000 respondents from the UK, France, Czech Republic, Romania, US, Canada, Brazil, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. Obesity and the related health issues are ever-increasing problems in Europe. In 2006, 30 per cent of European children were estimated to be overweight. The prevalence of obesity in the UK has more than doubled in the last 25 years.
The findings offer insight into what health-conscious consumers want, and how food manufacturers can angle their products to appeal to them. Two thirds of all respondents said they take some measures to manage their weight. The use of low fat food products proved the most common technique, with a third saying they use them.
Respondents from Saudi Arabia appeared most likely to choose low fat food products as a way to shed pounds, with 60 per cent saying they opt for this method. Low fat foods are also popular in the UK and the UAE, with 43 per cent and 44 per cent respectively saying they buy them.
At the other end of the scale, people from Singapore (19 per cent) and Romania (20 per cent) are least likely to purchase low fat foods, according to the survey. Another popular way to lose weight proved to be eating low carbohydrate food products. A fifth of all respondents said they use these in their weight management regime. The same proportion of people said they choose to exercise at home or in the gym.
People in the UAE (27 per cent) and Brazil (26 per cent) were more likely to choose products that are low in carbohydrates, while few people in France (7 per cent) and the Czech Republic (4 per cent) employed this method of weight loss. Ten per cent of people said they use herbs and supplements designed for weight loss, or meal replacements such as shakes and bars.
Meal replacements appeared to be used most in France (14 per cent), Saudi Arabia (16 per cent) and the US (19 per cent). Similarly, results suggested that herbs and supplements are most popular in France (15 per cent) and Saudi Arabia (21 per cent), but also in Romania (15 per cent). Synovate asked people what they believed the main cause of obesity was and found that 40 per cent of all people attribute food as the culprit. A fifth of respondents blamed eating at irregular hours, while another fifth pointed the finger at unhealthy food choices.
People in the UK (21 per cent) and the US (20 per cent) selected lack of self-discipline and the leading factor in obesity. Across the globe, very few people blame their government as the number one factor causing obesity.
The study also asked a series of attitudinal questions, which respondents agreed or disagreed with. Steve Garton, global head of media, said this revealed just how conflicted people seem to be about food. "On the one hand, more than half of all respondents (54 per cent) agreed that they eat whatever they want, whenever they want," he said.
"On the other hand, more than two thirds say 'I watch my food intake carefully and strive to be healthy', which rather flies in the face of the first claim. This is the crux of food issues across the globe. People are torn by food as fuel versus food as pleasure."