In Chicago’s warmer months, of which there are few, I sometimes have the occasion to take a short jog on The 606, an old elevated rail bed turned municipal park. Cyclists, runners and walkers populate the trail, and I find that as a person of modest physical exertion, I’m more apt to exercise when I’m in the presence of activity. Somehow, I can absorb the energetic runoff that radiates from people exercising in the same space. I simply don’t experience the same spate of energy while running on a treadmill alone in my uncle’s basement. My motivation dries up, especially if there is a cat nearby curled atop an ottoman. In these cases, I actually find what little energy I have being drawn from my body and deposited into the dreams of an orange tabby.
Finding the motivation to exercise is not easy. Some might say that modern life is constructed to omit physical activity. Sitting in a car, sitting at a desk and sitting on a couch are the chief activities of many Americans. If we spend all of our time getting to work, being at work, and decompressing from it, when are we supposed to exercise? How do we build physical health into modern life?
A recent Mintel study found that 43% of Americans agree that living a modern lifestyle makes it very difficult to be healthy. Further, 80% agree that being healthy requires sacrifices. The word sacrifices is left undefined here, but I imagine it alludes to less television watching, less sleeping and less staring out windows into a field of nothing in particular. That last one would be very difficult for me to give up.
And yet, despite a systemic design that seems to battle healthy lifestyles, some Americans are finding ways to weave healthy activity into their lives. The same study found that while nearly two in five consumers report that there’s always more they could do to be healthy (38%), Americans are indeed taking proactive measures to achieve better health. In fact, more than half of Americans say they eat a healthy diet (52%) and exercise regularly (53%). Other actions consumers report taking in order to live a healthy lifestyle focus on relaxation (49%), maintaining a work/life balance (48%) and focusing on mental health (43%).
I hope this research points to a long-term trend of Americans placing high value on health. Healthy people living in healthy communities is a vision that I believe most of us share. Yet, obesity, diabetes, hypertension and stress continue to plague the lives of many Americans. Within this reality, some food and beverage companies have found — as crass as it may seem — a consumer base with which to market products that assist in coping with health conditions. These products have done good for a lot of people by addressing the realities of consumers who are in need of making fundamental and permanent changes in diet.
In recent months, there have been a flood of new product introductions that assume a state of good consumer health. These products, in the sports nutrition category, for instance, take an optimistic view of American consumer health and are playing a role in convincing the public that health is of utmost importance. I’m certain the companies producing such products are basing their work on research that indicates a targeted consumer segment exists for their product lines. And, it appears by examining research like the Mintel study mentioned above, that consumers are at least beginning to believe that healthy lifestyles are within reach. It’s my contention that new food and beverage products that assume health on the part of consumers can play a role in developing and maintaining perpetual consumer health.
The saleable marketing message is no longer “this product will make you healthy.” Rather, it’s a simple appeal to consumers’ vision of themselves. “You are healthy. This product is for you.”