How BMI Affects Consumer Behavior and Attitudes

Study suggests c-stores can be a positive force in changing behavior and helping reverse obesity levels.
June 22, 2018

WASHINGTON – Despite the best efforts of policymakers and nutrition advocates, obesity remains endemic across the United States; adult obesity rates now exceed 30% in 25 states. A new Hudson Institute study examines some of the reasons why U.S. obesity levels continue to be a problem and indicates that convenience stores could be a part of the solution.

Why They Buy: Fighting Obesity Through Consumer Marketing Research” spotlights a major disparity between the food-related policies being pursued and the mindsets and motivations of the people these policies are trying to impact. The study, authored by Hank Cardello, director of the Hudson Institute’s Food Policy Center, was developed to understand the differences in attitudes towards eating, healthy living habits, mindsets and food-buying behavior, across four Body Mass Index (BMI) cohorts.

The study found that a major disparity exists between food-related policies and the mindsets and motivations of the people these policies are designed to help: overweight consumers and those having obesity. Additionally, the research suggests that relying on health messaging will not be enough to change behaviors for the obesity and overweight segments. Specific findings include:

  • Obese consumers self-reported that they favor taste and value, not health and nutrition, and noted that they made choices more impulsively, often at the expense of healthier eating. On the other hand, healthy-BMI consumers said they would be willing to sacrifice taste and value for a product that delivers more health benefits.
  • Healthy-weight individuals were more likely to read and act on package labels than respondents who have obesity.
  • A quarter of consumers who have obesity say they never exercise. Unlike healthy weight individuals, they do not believe that exercise is as important for health.

The report also made several strong recommendations:

  • The packaged snacks/sweet baked goods and restaurant sectors need to make commitments to lower calories. “Stealth” measures, such as removing calories without communicating the change or reducing portion sizes, were identified as essential to achieving these goals.
  • Regulators and the public health community must reassess standard tactics and broaden their analytical “toolkit” to ensure more effective food policy across all BMI segments.
  • More BMI segmentation research is needed into overweight and obesity groups to better understand their tradeoffs across a full array of products, to message to them more effectively and to provide input to policy development.

“The convenience retailing industry is cited as a positive force in changing behaviors, and this report shows that there may be new tactics to continue to help address the obesity issue,” said NACS Vice President of Strategic Industry Initiatives Jeff Lenard.

In 2015 Cardello coauthored a Hudson Institute report for NACS, Health & Wellness Trends and Strategies for the Convenience Store Sector, which suggested that by focusing on products and messaging that meet their needs for healthier products—on-the-go, breakfast and kid targeted convenience – convenience stores can drive significant, new growth in the category.

The Food Policy Center at Hudson Institute develops practical, market-oriented solutions to food industry issues and the obesity epidemic. Cardello has published numerous reports examining trends in the adoption of healthier consumer goods, has advised major food companies and the federal government and is the author of Stuffed: An Insider’s Look at Who’s (Really) Making America Fat.