The COVID-19 Effect on Weight Management

The pandemic has put a spotlight on the benefits of taking a holistic approach to maintain a healthy weight for a strong immune system and more—and upped the urgency as people look to shed the #quarantine15. Here, a look at the latest science and trends.

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Weight management is a sizeable market: According to 360 Market Updates, the global weight loss and weight management market was valued at $179 million as of August 2020, and expected to grow at a CAGR of 4.2% to reach $229.1 million by 2026 (1).

One factor driving that growth: COVID-19, which has influenced consumer behavior. “Being overweight or obese has a detrimental effect on the body’s metabolic pathways,” notes Jon Peters, Sales Director, Americas, Beneo. “An unhealthy weight can cause increases in chronic inflammation, which can lead to a weakened immune system. By not paying attention to weight management, consumers may see increases in several types of illnesses over the long term. They are increasingly aware of their dietary choices having a major impact on their metabolism and weight, thus influencing their overall health.”

Peters’ overview of the market: “Consumers have become smarter about methods, such as diet and exercise, that contribute to health, fitness, and inner wellbeing. In turn, manufacturers have responded to consumer demands for healthier and clean label food and beverages by seeking out natural and non-GMO ingredients that contribute to healthy weight management.” He also called out glucose management as an area in this market seeing growth, citing research from Mintel GNPD showing a 56.1% increase in low/no/reduced glycemic product introductions from 2013 to 2018. Additionally, he points to a survey performed by FMCG Gurus on behalf of Beneo that found that “beneficial ingredients and label transparency are now more important than ever before to consumers across the globe, as a result of the pandemic.”

As always, customers should check with a healthcare provider before starting a new diet or supplement regimen—and that’s especially true for weight issues, because sudden and unexplained changes in body weight can signal an underlying problem, as can issues of being unable to gain or lose weight.

 

At a Glance: Popular Diets

Perhaps the most important factor in weight management is diet—although individuals have to find out what works for their own bodies. Trisha Sugarek MacDonald, BS, MS, Sr. Director of R&D, explains: “Science is just now unveiling physiological differences and individual variations in how people process energy in the form of calories, control their appetites, or metabolize fats, thereby illuminating the fact that managing weight may involve more than just simple willpower. Since everybody is different, science has proven that the one-size-fits-all, single magic bullet approach to losing weight does not work. All too often, people embark on a particular diet or are drawn by marketing hype to a special diet product that never addresses the specific reasons they gain weight.” Those reasons, she says, can include:

  1. More calories are consumed than burned
  2. A slow metabolism—whether naturally or due to age
  3. An inability to break down stored fat

For some, calories in/calories out is a simple and effective method of managing both weight and health; low-calorie products may help them meet their goals, and pairing their diet with sports nutrition supplements may help them get the exercise they need.

Some may want to try an exclusion diet, like Whole30, that will help them reset—unlike many lifestyle diets, such as keto or paleo, Whole30 is intended to help consumers figure out what foods their body responds to negatively or positively. It can be a useful option for those whose diet seems to never be quite right. Retailers looking to grow their prepared foods segment may find this a useful target group; Whole30 excludes most packaged foods, and shoppers looking for a little convenience will be happy to pick up some pre-cooked turkey and veggies.

Those looking for rapid weight loss may benefit from keto: Jordan Rubin, CEO of Ancient Nutrition, tells WholeFoods that “The ketogenic diet has been one of the trendiest diets in recent years, having gained a following due to its potential to help with quick weight loss—up to 10 pounds in two weeks, according to some studies—even among people who have struggled with other weight-loss plans.” Keto, Rubin explains, is a high-fat, low-carb diet that forces the body to burn fat for energy instead of carbs—including stored body fat. And while it can be useful for those who struggle with weight loss, some may enjoy it as a lifestyle. Besides the quick fat-burning, “it works even without needing to count calories, reduces hunger and cravings, increases energy and mental clarity—due to fewer blood sugar swings—and improves metabolic markers including insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels,” Rubin explains. Pairing this diet with ketogenic supplements can help customers make it into ketosis and stay there.

But Keto isn’t the only trend in this area. “Other noteworthy trends include eating an overall less-processed diet, including a ‘caveman’ or ancestral approach,” Rubin says. Perhaps the most well-known version of this: Paleo, which involves unprocessed, whole foods and lean meats and excludes foods that weren’t always easy to access, such as sugar and salt. Again, prepared foods will be a hit with these customers—like Whole30, many packaged foods are out, and while people may have more time to cook these days, convenience never goes out of style.

Rubin also points to diets like the Mediterranean Diet, plant-based diet, and intermittent fasting, which requires dieters to either fast for a day or two per week or to only eat within an eight-hour time frame, as gaining in popularity.

Glenn MacEachern, Executive Director, Product Development, Life Extension, sees a trend in actual weight management, as well as just weight loss. He points to growth in meal replacement shakes, high protein/low carb powders, and other weight management support products, noting that “they may not cause weight loss, but they do help support body composition and healthy dietary changes.”

And as with every other industry, COVID-19 has thrown things in the air for the weight management arena, Rubin adds. “Quarantining at home has helped some people to eat better by cooking more and dining out less, but this really seems to depend on the individual and their habits. There’s also been growth in sales of meal delivery services aimed at helping to promote weight loss.”

 

Market Overview: Supplements

Supplements can be a big help, but weight loss supplements have been under fire for years, and MacEachern says that there’s some wariness: “People have grown more reluctant to spend money on ‘diet pills.’ This category does not have a good reputation for successful products, and people don’t want to spend their money on products with false promises that likely won’t work. A magic pill that results in large amounts of weight loss without any changes in diet and lifestyle does not exist. With this in mind, clinical studies are beginning to focus more on reductions in waistline, arm, and thigh circumference, as well as overall body fat reduction and visceral fat loss.”

Cai Berg, Founder and CEO of Berg Nutrition, agrees, noting that the industry is equally reluctant to create silver bullet pills for the same reason that consumers don’t want to buy them. “Today’s products are cautious with their weight-loss claims, given the regulatory environment. Products are moving away from high caffeine. The successful weight-loss products are focused on metabolic support and thermogenesis, and many are moving into the sports nutrition space, which is more dynamic and engaging.” The downside here, Berg says, is that there seems to be little innovation in this area.

The focus should be on products that work, stresses Chemi Nutra’s Braxton Wright, Sales Manager, who explicitly calls out high-dose caffeine products as ones that give the market a bad reputation. “The focus has gone away from the age-old stimulant-based pills that increase energy but never actually provide real benefits for weight management. I love seeing the change, since for so many years all that was available were high caffeine diet pills that increased energy until you quickly built a tolerance to the high caffeine dose—and then the product provides zero energy or metabolism boost. We recommend that consumers push this trend and look for weight-management products that address cortisol levels, which will help with stress as well; growth hormone levels, which can also provide anti-aging benefits; and muscle mass decline, or sarcopenia. Addressing these issues is great for long-term health as you are addressing issues that will help keep you younger, longer.”

And the industry is addressing those issues: “We have seen a more holistic approach to weight loss with the rise in functional foods and addressing other aspects of life that significantly contribute to obesity such as high cortisol levels, declining HGH levels with age, and reduced muscle mass resulting in a slower metabolism,” Wright says. “We have specifically seen increased usage of phosphatidylserine, alpha GPC, and phosphatidic acid, which directly address these holistic views, and have become more common approaches for weight management.”

Phosphatidylserine, which Chemi Nutra sells as SerinAid, can help lower cortisol, a stress hormone. Wright notes that being stuck at home with kids or being stressed out by work can raise this hormone—and raise weight right along with it. “A rise in cortisol directly affects weight gain,” he notes, “specifically weight gain around the stomach.”

Another option: phenylcapsaicin, branded aXivite. Berg explains that the ingredient is nature identical to capsaicin—but unlike naturally extracted capsaicin, it shows no sign of genotoxicity, making it safe for long-term use, and is four times more bioactive than natural capsaicin. It also has holistic properties that can make it an option for those watching their wallets: “Beyond weight loss and weight control, studies show that it also helps with easing an irritated gut; promoting a healthy gut microbiome, which supports a healthy immune response; and providing topical pain relief for joints and muscles.”

Inflammation may be another point of focus for those trying to control their weight. Annie Eng, CEO of HP Ingredients, pointed to a study published in Nature Metabolism that found a connection between inflammation and obesity—specifically, the gene RIPK1 was found to cause hyper-inflammation when overactive. Eng’s takeaway: “We feel that when formulating supplements to help people lose and manage both weight and fat, focusing on helping to manage inflammation is critical in promoting not only effective loss of pounds and fat, but good health, too.”

Eng’s suggestion: Andrographis paniculata. “Although this newly published study looks at a particular gene, ParActin—Andrographis—has been shown in several studies to reduce inflammatory response by inhibiting the activity of nuclear factor-kappaB (NFkB), a protein that acts like a switch to turn inflammation on or off.” She suggests a combination of ParActin with CitruSlim, a compound of glycosides and eurypeptides from Eurycoma longifolia which, she says, can help promote an anabolic state, reduce cortisol, activate AMPK, reduce triglycerides, and help balance blood glucose levels. “In one study, 50 moderately overweight men and women took either 200mg CitruSlim or placebo daily for six weeks,” she says. “Participants in the CitruSlim group showed significant body weight loss of an average of 2.7kg—2.4kg of which was body fat loss, suggesting 87% of the total weight loss is body fat loss. Participants in the placebo group did not show significant body weight loss or body fat loss.”

A suggestion from Jonathan Jones, Ph.D., R&D Manager and Digital Health Scientific Advisor at Monteloeder USA: A combination of hibiscus and lemon verbena, standardized to high anthocyanins and verbascosides, respectively. “Clinical studies have shown that the combined ingredient actually decreases fat accumulation in the adipose tissue and liver, while also increasing energy uptake by the muscles, giving rise to a ‘fat-burning’ effect on the body. Furthermore, the ingredient has been demonstrated to help reduce total cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure. Therefore, it is an ingredient targeted to manage excess body weight and fat, while also supporting cardiovascular health.”

Of course, all of these ingredients and the products that contain them have different effects—which may or may not be useful for a particular customer. While it’s always vital to give a customer a product that will work for them, in this segment that’s particularly important—as MacEachern cautioned, customers can end up dropping the whole market if they spend money on a product that doesn’t perform as expected.

Sugarek MacDonald points back to her list of reasons for weight gain as the starting point for selecting a supplement. “Once a consumer identifies their particular reasons for weight gain,” she says, “they can choose their supplement regimen accordingly. However, what you will find is that there is a consumer base that prefers single-ingredient options and others who love well-rounded multi-ingredient formulas. This could be due, in part, to the media hype for those individual ingredients or price-savvy consumers just looking after their pocketbook. However, the great thing about single ingredients is that when they do work, customers keep coming back and sometimes trade up to the multi-ingredient formula because they want to continue seeing the great results they are already experiencing.” Bluebonnet’s most popular ingredient, Sugarek MacDonald says, is Skinny Garcinia, which “supplies the body with the right nutrients for healthy weight management without stimulants. It helps to give individuals the jumpstart they need to achieve their ideal weight.”

Sugarek MacDonald splits supplements into four major categories:

  • Burning calories/increasing metabolism—thermogenesis
  • Optimizing fat metabolism—a breakdown of fat—lipolysis or beta-oxidation
  • Regulating blood glucose levels or modulating insulin metabolism
  • Curbing appetite/cravings or inducing satiety

Merchandising your weight management category into these or similar segments can help customers make their choice, and can help guide your sales associates as they work with customers.

Shifting from Fad Diets to Holistic Health

“There’s reason to believe that people seem to be focused less on fad diets and more on holistic health,” explains Ancient Nutrition’s Jared Rubin. “This means not only losing weight if necessary, but also eating more whole foods and organic foods and fewer processed foods, as well as exercising more regularly and managing stress better.”

Stress is certainly a vital factor—it can keep the body in fight-or-flight mode, preventing it from entering rest-and-digest mode, while also boosting weight gain. And managing stress, like managing weight, is a holistic endeavor. Bluebonnet’s Trisha Sugarek MacDonald provides these tips for a healthy mind, body, and soul:

  • Drink plenty of water (plenty = about 100 oz per day or 12 ½ cups)
  • Listen to your body; eat mindfully
  • Eat your fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid excess sweets and alcohol
  • Consume high quality, lean protein
  • Eat healthy fats
  • Strive for 8 hours of sleep each and every day
  • Obtain 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week
  • Mediate or find moments each day to focus on your breathing

Life Extension’s Glenn MacEachern seconds Sugarek MacDonald’s recommendation regarding sleep, noting that the relationship between circadian rhythm and weight regulation is seeing increasing amounts of scientific research—not to mention that sleep is also related to stress, which brings it all full circle.

Post-COVID Predictions

Looking to the future, industry experts are divided on where this market will go—and the effects of COVID-19 on this segment. “According to some economic experts, the Weight Loss Services Industry is expected to contract somewhat in 2020 and possibly 2021,” says Jordan Rubin, CEO of Ancient Nutrition. His source on that—Ibis World—cites economic disruption from COVID-19. “That being said,” Rubin continues, “on an individual level, people do seem to be focusing on improving their overall health. Research has indicated that people with obesity are more likely than normal-weight people to experience severe COVID symptoms and complications, which has inspired some people to take better care of themselves in order to manage their weight and reduce their risk for illness.”

Sugarek MacDonald, on the other hand, points to #covid15 as a potential force for growth: “Perhaps the pandemic influenced those extra 15 pounds through one too many ‘let us order pizza’ nights, or from fear and anxiety which lead to unhealthy activities, like overeating.” Even so, she agrees that this category isn’t thriving. “The weight management market is not exactly making a comeback, and sales have been dipping since 2015, according to Nutrition Business Journal. In fact, the COVID halo effect on the industry has not spurred this category, which is expected to remain flat.”

However, Wright made more positive predictions. “We expect to see more growth in the future as the population comes out of lockdowns and are more likely to address their weight and health,” he explains. “COVID has had a very interesting effect on this particular sector. Much of the population is affected by mandates that require them to stay at home and significantly limits outside activities. You could probably guess that we are going to see weight gain happening. We like to call in the quarantine 15. We view this as a strong area for growth currently and in the future, since the population for the first time in modern history has had to take an objective look at their health to determine if they are at high risk for the future.”

Offering a sunnier loo, Monteloeder’s Dr. Jones says, “The market for weight management products is clearly on the rise, and is expected to further increase in 2021 and 2022. This is due to the change in consumer demand due to COVID-related restrictions, where lockdowns are having an impact on consumer body weight. This is so commonplace that it has become a trending issue in social networks. Therefore, as restrictions ease up, the consumers are rapidly trying to lose the extra weight, and are looking for solutions that help them lose that weight, fast. At the same time, as further restrictions are being placed and throughout the rest of the fall and winter seasons, consumers will be looking for solutions that help them minimize the impact of lower mobility and lack of access to outdoor activities. Therefore, the trend for weight management products will continue to increase at least for the coming months or even years.”

Regardless, the consensus seems to be for this industry precisely what it is for others: Products with scientific backing that work as promised, made with clean-label and natural ingredients, that provide holistic benefits, will continue to see demand.

A final takeaway: “There is a need to expand consumer education on the benefits of relatively small amounts of weight loss on metabolic and overall health,” MacEachern says. Life Extension is working in that space—and so can you: Reassuring daunted customers that it doesn’t take much to see a health improvement may give them the willpower boost they need to start down a healthier path. WF

References

  1. 360 Market Updates Staff, “Global and China Weight Loss and Weight Management Market Size, Status, and Forecast 2020-2026.” Published 08/25/2020. Accessed 11/1/2020. https://www.360marketupdates.com/global-and-china-weight-loss-and-weight-management-market-16274199

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