Focus On: Age

Even when general health attitudes are similar, age demographics signal a greater willingness to act on diet choices.

By Barbara Katz, HealthFocus International

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These days I seem to be hearing a lot of experts in the field of consumer health and wellness say that when we speak of consumer needs, we should ignore the basic demographics of age, household makeup and generation and look more toward their general health attitudes to communicate with them.

To this, I say "huh?" Every time I hear this I am surprised it isn't questioned.

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I am a devout believer in the role of consumer attitudes. HealthFocus International creates an attitudinal segmentation from our trend study to guide our clients toward key consumer groups. What consumers think they are doing is a critical indicator of what's really important to them.

But the attitude of one group of consumers absolutely must be overlaid with their demographics, particularly their age and generation, because of what we call the descending "Scale of Invincibility." This works in close concert with a consumer's willingness to actually take action.

The Invincibility Scale probably peaks in the under-30 crowd, where we just don't think anything bad can happen to us. It drops to a more reasonable level at some point in the 40s or 50s for most consumers, when we start to appreciate some of this "health stuff" does apply to us -- not just to fat, old Aunt Bessie.

There will indeed be a 70-year-old woman watching her diet, actively managing her health and going to the gym in much the same way as a 35-year-old counterpart. And attitudinally they will both be similar and believe their health is worth spending time on. They both may be childless or empty nesters, so they have time to manage their diets. But the age demographic means the 70-year-old woman will be of the understanding that these actions are for the here and now and there will be a greater willingness to act.

As said to me recently in an interview, "Who knows if there will be a tomorrow?" This was said by a 70-year-old woman who was active, fulfilled and free of major health issues.

While the new "Young Old" is actually a delightfully enthusiastic population that is not overly fatalistic, they are, as evidenced by this comment, realistic. Qualitatively, compared to their younger counterparts, we find them to be less invincible and more willing to take action toward better nutrition as defined by them, even if their real understanding of nutrition isn't particularly good.

Younger consumers think things may be great for others but that doesn't mean they will act upon it for themselves because their needs are less immediate. They still have a long future to get it together.
In the 2005 HealthFocus Trend report (see infographic) we see consumers who are 65-plus are 19 percentage points more likely to avoid certain foods to eat healthier than those 30-39 years old; 24 percentage points more likely to follow a heart-health or low-fat diet; 27 percentage points more likely to follow a high fiber diet; and 26 percentage points more likely to follow a low-sodium diet. And that's just a smattering of the statistics.

So while their attitudes toward life, health and control may be similar to the 30-year-old who is trotting next to them on the treadmill at the gym, I don't believe as product developers and marketers we can really ignore the straight age and generational demographics when trying to meet their needs. I still believe age affects action.


Barbara Katz is president of HealthFocus International, a consulting and market research company specializing in global consumer health and nutrition. The HealthFocus Trend Study is available for the U.S. and 30 other countries. Barbara can be reached at info@healthfocus.com.
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