Attitudes about aging are clearly changing—60 moved from being “the new 50” to being “the new 40.” Is 40 the new 30? At this rate, we’ll all be back in college playing beer pong by the end of the decade.
And it’s not just the attitudes but the language that’s changing.
We don’t have “seniors.” We have “active adults.” “The new old age” is a New York Times blog and not an oxymoron.
Still, for all the talk of health conscious aging and baby boomers entering their golden years with vigor and vitality, the truth is that people may be aging faster than ever.
The parents of boomers grew up with less processed food and less sedentary lifestyles in the pre-industrialized food era, but they raised their children in the dawning age of convenience. TV dinners were the future. GenXers came of age with high fructose corn syrup and super-sized portions. Millennials got ultra-supervised childhoods that limited physical activity while they experienced life through a laptop screen with Red Bull close at hand. Is Wii Fit really exercise? Child obesity has finally leveled off, but the epidemic of diabetes has yet to crest.
The truth could be that 40 is the new 70.
Against that backdrop, supplements and natural products emerge as a solution for many consumers. Whether manufacturers and marketers can meet those needs responsibly is yet another test for the supplement industry.
Like so many of the tests the nutrition industry faces, the answer is likely education. When cries of fraud erupted after the Dr. Oz goes to Washington spectacle and February’s New York attorney general investigation, the industry largely responded defensively with “But we are regulated!” (see page 38 for an update on industry attitudes on new regulation) The more appropriate tactic of educating consumers about how to tell the good products from the bad didn’t get the same volume, or attention.
That kind of education is what consumers need in the aging space. The responsible companies and the trade agencies need to take a look at how to guide consumers through a market rich in both potential benefit and potential fraud. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill accused supplement companies of preying on desperate consumers with claims of therapy for Alzheimer’s disease. The industry should have been calling out those products and explaining the difference between science-backed ingredients and unsubstantiated claims, between realistic expectations and unproven results.
In aging, consumers are as confused as they are concerned. Real therapies exist, but consumers might not find them without real education. That’s the mission that will build the market.