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Top health trends to watch: How American consumers are staying healthy

February 17, 2016

Food, health and fitness topics occupy a lot of real estate in the 24/7 news cycles. Consumers are being bombarded with content and marketing touting the latest and greatest super foods, revolutionary diets and miraculous fitness regimens. And marketers are rushing to identify how their audiences’ needs are evolving and how to best connect with them.

The big picture of U.S. health trends

Significant numbers of adult consumers in the US aspire to live healthy, and they want information and products/services that can help them reach their goals. Using GfK MRI’s Survey of the American Consumer®, we have learned about consumers’ attitudes and actions regarding health and healthcare. Some of these beliefs and behaviors have been gaining momentum over the years – going back as far as ten years – while others remain constant.

About one-third of American adults are passionate about their health. And they agree strongly that they are always looking for ways to live healthier. About the same proportion report they try to eat healthy and pay attention to nutrition. And one-quarter claim to exercise regularly. Following doctor’s orders, nearly one-half of those surveyed visit their physicians for regular checkups.

Trend 1: A shift to generic prescription meds

Consumers are reporting higher use of generic prescription medications for a number of conditions compared to ten years ago. They include medications for hypertension/high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, anxiety/panic and acid reflux. This shift may be prompted by factors such as the greater availability of generic medications and cost savings to patients. But the trend also points to consumers’ growing confidence that generic medications are as effective as those with a brand name, with nearly one-half of adults strongly believing in the effectiveness of generics. Some of their thinking may be influenced by positive media reports about generics, such as a 2014 article from, “Here’s why you should always buy generic drugs.”

Trend 2: Herbal and homemade treatment usage more common among younger adults

Use of home/herbal treatments remains significantly lower among all adults than over-the-counter or prescription medications. However, there has been a slight rise in the past ten years in the number of people who strongly agree that they prefer alternative medicine to traditional medical practices.

Younger adults and women are more inclined than overall adults to adopt home/herbal remedies as part of their treatment regimens. For example, Millennials (those born from ’77 to ’94) are 24% more likely than the average adult to use them, and Gen Xers (those born from ’65 to ‘76) are 17% more likely.

Trend 3: Women taking an active stance in managing health

There is a gender gap in healthcare: Higher percentages of women than men are more proactive when it comes to staying healthy. They visit their doctors for regular checkups and pay more attention to nutrition by eating healthy and cooking meals more frequently. Women are also more likely to use any type of medication to treat an illness. This includes prescription, over-the-counter or home/herbal remedies.

Trend 4: Information-seekers going online

More than one-third (36%) of consumers agree strongly that, before taking any medication, they try to get as much information about it as possible. The internet is a growing source of knowledge. In 2015, more than one-quarter of adults obtained medical information online within the past 30 days, compared to 14% in 2005. Providing up-to-date and helpful content about medications, symptoms and side effects will help educate and inform consumers.

Trend 5: Leading Edge Consumers setting the stage for healthy living

So where are consumer health attitudes and behaviors headed? GfK’s Roper Consumer Life Trends introduces us to Leading Edge Consumers (LEC), early adopters in the health and wellness category, who are passionate and strong influencers in the category. Furthermore, their influential behaviors typically become popular with others, providing a glimpse into the future.

Based on the LEC behaviors, we believe that a few upcoming trends will continue to gain popularity:

  • using innovative products and services geared toward tracking and monitoring fitness, measuring weight and/or calorie intake
  • seeking customized advice about physical or mental health based on information people provide
  • getting recommendations about ways to improve fitness
  • getting recommendations for healthy food and beverages
  • tracking sleep patterns
  • performing activities/solving puzzles/playing games that exercise the brain and improve memory

New medical findings, along with new products and services that support those findings, will inform consumer choices. Customized advice about physical and mental health and a greater appeal for curated and more targeted health recommendations is and will continue to be essential to the future of consumers’ health-related choices.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please email me at

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