Natural Foods Merchandiser

Women's Health Concerns And Conditions

Medical evidence suggests that the sexes may be more dissimilar than previously thought. Major food, supplements and pharmaceutical marketers are not letting this strong and sustainable story go unnoticed. But prioritizing the women's health market is a complicated process demanding an understanding of women's awareness, experience, concerns and degree of irritability with an array of health conditions.

Marketers must know which problems women self-treat, cotreat, opt for a physician to treat or don't treat at all. They should also know how frequently women take action and their degree of satisfaction with existing medications or product options. Thus, planning for the future involves grasping the gaps between actual incidence, market size and perceived market demand. In other words, retailers and product developers must understand the promises and priorities that will attract today's and tomorrow's female health shoppers.

What Worries Women
Heart disease, breast cancer and tiredness are the leading health concerns among women, followed by arthritis, eye health, stress, high cholesterol and osteoporosis, according to the "2001 HealthFocus Trend Report." Baby-boomer women, the first generation to live with the long-term consequences of menopause, will put women's health on the national agenda. The American Menopause Foundation reports that 37 million women suffer from menopausal symptoms; 10 million are perimenopausal. Not surprisingly, therefore, eye health, high blood pressure and stress are the latest additions to the "Top 10" list of women's health concerns.

While frightening diseases top the list of women's health worries overall, top of mind concerns and true physical and health needs differ dramatically by age segment. For example, energy, skin/hair problems, stress, weight and PMS are the "top of mind" concerns for women 18 to 24 years old, according to a study by the Hartman Group of Bellevue, Wash. Obesity, colds/flu, cognitive function and fertility were cited most often as true physical needs or risks by this age group.

In comparison, energy, stress, skin/hair problems, sex drive, fear of hysterectomy and gingivitis were "top of mind" for those ages 50 to 64. Weight management, menopause, bone integrity and muscle mass/tone were specific concerns of the younger half of this segment, and post-menopausal conditions and hair loss of the older half. Breast and other cancers, immune disorders, cognitive function/dementia, heart disease, cholesterol, macular degeneration, arthritis, diabetes and urinary tract infections topped their list of physical needs and risks.

Joint function, healthy sex life, bone integrity, incontinence, gingivitis and altered sleep patterns creep onto the lists of women older than 65.

Incidence And Opportunities
Quantifying differences between age segments is only one difficulty in addressing this market. The perceptions of the conditions that affect women and the actual incidence of conditions are to some extent inconsistent. For example, only 42 percent of women are "very concerned" about being overweight, but in reality the Centers for Disease Control report that 51 percent of women are overweight and 25 percent are obese. Likewise, 43 percent of women are "very concerned" about high cholesterol, yet 53 million have already been diagnosed.

According to a Consumer HealthCare Products Association 2001 survey, women suffer more from six out of seven of the most common minor ailments than men. In descending order, women suffer more from muscle, joint and back pain; headaches; allergy or sinus problems; skin problems; upset stomach; and constipation or diarrhea. About 15 percent of women suffer from PMS, and 12 percent are menopausal.

Treatment Priorities
When planning product options and alternatives, it is important to understand whether a female customer is likely to self-treat a condition before seeing a physician, opt for an OTC product or perhaps a supplement instead. According to the 2001 CHPA study, women are likely to choose OTC products as their first course of action for headaches, skin problems, heartburn/ indigestion, coughs and colds, and allergy/sinus conditions.

For an upset stomach, constipation/diarrhea, muscle/back aches, minor eye problems, PMS/menstrual and menopause conditions, women tend to "wait and see," or perhaps try an option other than an OTC remedy. This leaves ample opportunity for supplements and more natural treatment options. As seen in Figure 2, in the last six months, nearly one-third of women have used dietary supplements to treat a condition. Thirty-five percent of these women used a supplement to treat menopause; 22 percent for coughs/colds/sore throats/flu; 15 percent for allergies/sinus problems; and 13 percent for muscle or back pain.

Women also visit the doctor more frequently during the year than men. According to a study by Beta Research of Syosset, N.Y., allergies were second only to regular OB/GYN visits as reasons women went to see a physician. Next came high blood pressure, headaches, arthritis, high cholesterol, sinusitis, menopause, depression, acid reflux and muscle ache/pain. In terms of prescription drugs, 12 percent of women use them in menopause support, while 3 percent take them for osteoporosis.

Similarly, it is important to know what physicians are recommending to women. According to the Gallup Poll's "Focus Report on Women's Changing Health Care Needs" survey, more than half of physicians are recommending more regular exercise for women, compared to only 37 percent in 1995. In addition, doctors are increasingly recommending that women increase their intake of calcium. In fact, there has been a dramatic increase in physician recommendation of all forms of calcium, including supplements, calcium-rich foods, and foods and beverages fortified with calcium.

Information Sources
Last but not least, it is critically important to understand where women get their information, especially since many retailers are now offering in-store computerized databases, as well as books, in-store experts and reprints of medical journal articles. In a recent survey of primary food shoppers—mostly women, of course—the Food Marketing Institute and Prevention magazine confirmed that books, magazines, health care professionals, friends/family and newspapers still topped the list as the most frequently used sources of health and nutrition information. The only change during the last year is that television fell out of the top five, only to be replaced by newspapers. Perhaps what is most significant is the influence of the Internet as a tool for health information among those who have access to a computer. Gallup's 2001 survey found that of women who had access to a computer—either at work or at home—94 percent said the physician was their most-used health source. However, Web sites ranked second (59 percent) followed by TV (57 percent), magazines and newspapers (56 percent), pharmacists (48 percent) family and friends (48 percent).

As gender-specific medicine begins to unravel how and why diseases affect men and women differently, it will transform the way physicians, retailers and product development scientists think about disease conditions and performance issues. And, it will unquestionably change the way manufacturers develop and market their products.

Series Part I: Women's Health Market: Potential and Direction
Series Part II: Women's Health Market: Attitudes and Behaviors
Series Part IV: Women's Health Market: Megamarkets, Nuances And Emerging Segments

A. Elizabeth Sloan, Ph.D., is the president of Sloan Trends & Solutions Inc., in Escondido, Calif. Contact her at 760.741.9611 or e-mail [email protected]

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 1/p. 14, 18

Conditions Customers are Extremely or Very Concerned About



Cardiovascular/heart disease



Breast cancer



Tiredness, lack of energy






Eye health






High cholesterol












Colon cancer



Lack of mental sharpness/focus



Alzheimer's Disease









Weak/stressed immune system






Gastrointestinal problems



Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 1/p. 18

Use of Dietary Supplements by Condition

Percent of women saying they used dietary supplements for:

Menopausal symptoms


Cough/cold/flu/sore throat




Muscle/joint/back pain


Premenstrual/menstrual symptoms


Minor eye problems


Skin problems




Upset stomach/nausea




Teeth/gum problems




Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 1/p. 18

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