Weight loss industry faces growing problem: Fewer dieters

Once upon a time, Americans chowed down over the holidays, then vowed to shed the pounds come January. For years, that cycle fattened the coffers of the weight-loss industry. 

But this January is serving up a heap of bad news for Weight Watchers and its competitors: The percentage of Americans who are dieting is at an all-time low, according to The NPD Group. 

Only 19 percent of American adults are currently dieting, down from 20 percent at the same time last year, marking a new low since The NPD Group, a market research company, started tracking dieting habits three decades ago. Dieting reached a peak in 1991, when almost one-third of Americans were slimming down. 

The decline of dieting is creating serious problems for the $61 billion weight-loss industry. Spending on diets slowed during the recession, and revenue for companies in the sector increased only 1.7 percent in 2012, Quartz.com notes. 

Weight Watchers (WTW), one of the dieting industry’s titans, cited a “challenging recruitment environment” when it reported third-quarter results, with sales declining 8.5 percent from a year earlier. It stock, meanwhile, dropped a whopping 38 percent in 2013.

So are Americans just giving up on dieting? 

“The American attitude is shifting about diet,” Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst of The NPD Group, told CBS MoneyWatch. “The percentage of Americans who say they are on a diet has been declining for some time now.”

There are several reasons for the shift, Balzer said. First, Americans are stressing healthier eating, rather than dieting, such as consuming whole grains and organic foods.

 “We have been provided with so many ways to be healthier,” he said. “The word ‘diet’ has become part of it. It’s very difficult to diet. To change your behavior and lose weight isn’t an easy thing.” 

Taking on healthier eating habits just seems easier, such as swapping whole wheat flour into that favorite cookie recipe.

Americans are also becoming more tolerant of a few extra pounds, The NPD Group found. When its survey started asking respondents if people who are not overweight look more attractive, 55 percent agreed with the question. 

“Today it’s 22 percent” of people who agree, Balzer noted. “It’s the lowest it’s every been. People are more accepting.”

But the weight-loss industry shouldn’t lose hope. Even though fewer Americans say they are dieting, the percentage who say they want to shed 20 pounds has remained fairly steady. It’s just that Americans don’t want to work as hard and are more willing to believe those love handles are, well, lovely. 

  • Aimee Picchi

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