Is the ‘health’ trend a marketing gimmick?

Health Trands

We recently worked with a few brands that wanted to establish themselves as the ‘healthy’ alternative in foods and beverages. It got us thinking, How has this health trend started and how is it gaining momentum? Is it a function of the sheer marketing money spent on creating fear?

A spate of ‘Healthful’ products have been launched in the past year, including Curd, Ghee, Bran Oil, Stevia and the likes. This, combined with a growing trend (at least in Urban India) of Marathon running, Yoga practicing, Zumba, Spinning and other activities seems to point towards the fact that Indians are at least growing semi-conscious of their health in relation to their lifestyles.

We did our own understanding and insighting into some of these aspects, with one key question to answer – how deep does this consciousness run? How many Indians actually know what they’re buying into?

The answer is actually a little more complicated than a simple yes or no. Culturally, Indians are a nation of eaters. We eat fairly indiscriminately. This probably wasn’t a problem right up to the nineties, where there was a fair amount of work to keep everyone fit and active. In today’s world though, sedentary lifestyles, an abundance of packaged food, convenience led pre-processed food and hectic schedules have left Indian’s far less fit than they should be.

A few facts to consider –

  • According to India’s National Health Profile 2015, there were almost 3.5m reported cases of acute respiratory infection (ARI) last year, a 140,000 increase on the previous year and a 30% increase since 2010 
  • The latest global figures on diabetes, released by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), has raised a serious alarm for India by saying that nearly 52% of Indians aren’t aware that they are suffering from high blood sugar. India is presently home to 62 million diabetics — an increase of nearly 2 million in just one year.
  • According to data published by WHO in 2014, 138.36 Indians in every 1,00,000 of our population suffer from coronary heart disease. In terms of absolute numbers,

It’s evident that we’re fast becoming one of the most unhealthy nations on the planet. But how does this impact us as individuals?

We found that most people we spoke to (in Mumbai) regarding their health, were aware, in a vague sort of way, that their lifestyles were ultimately detrimental to their health. As a back-of-mind awareness, this continues to be a running theme. This fact, combined with a growing horror at the cost of urban healthcare has led a small percentage of the population to take active steps towards improving their health. The steps largely seem to take three forms:

1. Activity: Running/Walking, Yoga and Zumba seem to top the list. Surprisingly though, it is the 35+ somethings that seem to be taking this seriously. The younger generation, though slightly more aware/discerning, do not seem to be prioritizing physical activity just as yet.

2. De-stressing: De-stressing is a favourite form of health related initiative. This ranges from massages and spa visits, to meditation and strolling. This form of activity is slightly more popular among the younger generation along with ‘fun’ activities like dancing or playing a sport.

3. Diet: Most working men and women in urban India, have made changes in their diet to accommodate a hectic schedule. This includes cutting down on sugar/caffeine etc, the inclusion of green tea in their diet, more water, ‘healthier’ food like oats, protein-rich, gluten-free snacks etc.

However, while a good start, a deeper exploration has led us to some slightly disturbing findings:

a. While many people do take up one or more of the above activities, they seem to view it as a trade off. I.e: They still have disturbed sleeping patterns, hectic schedules with ulcer-giving stress, they smoke and drink in large quantities and so on. These ‘healthy’ measures are as seen a sops, not as a true lifestyle changes

b. There is very little true understanding of the final product they are purchasing. This is especially true in the case of foods and beverages that go into the shopping cart of the average urban yuppie. Anything ‘healthy’ is tossed in, without an understanding of the ingredients, principles involved, or indeed-basic chemistry (here’s some food for thought on the baked vs fried chips debate) !

c. There is a general assumption that as long as ‘I don’t need to go to the doctor I’m fine’. Denial seems to set in when asked about a host of problems that could be lurking just below the seemingly healthy surface. Symptoms aren’t recognized, or even if they are, they are simply ignored in the larger scheme of “I can’t take a single day off since I took that expensive – and long- international vacation last month”!

What is even worse is that a lot of today’s 30 somethings completely take for granted a host of stressors that were probably not even in existence a couple of decades ago. For example, it is unlikely that a person who is 50 today, was commuting 4 hours a day, working on weekends, and then was socially obliged to party on the one Sunday evening that is available to him to wind down. The actual impact of such a lifestyle is yet to be captured, understood analysed or documented.

If you find yourself doing any of the above, our advice to you as a marketer is – slow down, think about what you buy and do. There are plenty of people out there selling the health fad. Don’t get us wrong, some of them seem to be genuine. It just seems to us that you should be doing your own research. Don’t just rush in to buy-into the ‘healthy lifestyle’ without knowing why you’re doing it.