I read a depressing headline recently at the website of American Demographics magazine: "America Is Home to Nearly 23% of Planet's Excessively Overweight Individuals." Worse still, it seems that about one in three people all over the world is overweight (among those 15 or older).
Is there any good news? Well, sort of. It seems that if you consider those who are not extremely obese but are merely "overweight," Americans make up only 7% of that global population, not much more than our 5% share of the overall world population.
According to government surveys, the average American adult man between 20 and 74 years old weighs in at 191 pounds, while his female counterpart weighs an average of 164. These are both up about 24 pounds over the past 40 years. This is a trend with implications that go beyond health -- it affects companies, consumers, and investors. For example:
- The increase in the overweight population boosts businesses such as Weight Watchers
(NYSE:WTW)and NutriSystem (NASDAQ:NTRI). A recent Washington Post article noted: "William L. Weis, a management professor at Seattle University, says revenue from the 'obesity industries' will likely top $315 billion this year, and perhaps far more. That includes $133.7 billion for fast-food restaurants, $124.7 billion for medical treatments related to obesity, and $1.8 billion just for diet books -- all told, nearly 3% of the overall U.S. economy."
- The fattening of America also suggests that more and more people have been eating out, very often at "quick-serve" restaurants such as McDonald's
(NYSE:MCD)and Burger King (NYSE:BKC). Beyond that, it's worth noting that many such restaurant chains have been tweaking their menu offerings in order to cater to nutrition-conscious and dieting consumers. Witness, for example, all the salads now available in fast-food places, the Veggie Burger you'll find at Burger King, and Wendy's chili.
- Our concern with calories spurs new marketing efforts as well. Consider the new trend of food companies offering taste treats in 100-calorie packages. Hershey
(NYSE:HSY)and Nestle have recently introduced 100-calorie candy sticks. Meanwhile, Kraft Foods (NYSE:KFT)and others offer Pringles chips, Nutter Butter cookies, and Oreo treats in 100-calorie servings. Even Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO)is selling 8-ounce "mini Cokes." This trend will likely boost the bottom line for investors, as an ABCNews.go.com article explained: "With a full bag of pretzels, the cost is about 17 cents an ounce. Divided into 100-calorie packs, the same pretzels cost nearly 40 cents an ounce, more than double."
- Not so good for business is that fact that fatter Americans will translate into rising health-care and insurance costs, as well as work time lost to sickness.
Is this trend here to stay? That remains to be seen. There are certainly factors that will keep fueling it, such as our increasingly busy lives that welcome fast foods and processed, prepared meals that tend to be high in calories. Maybe one day we'll be marveling at how thin the average American is. But in the meantime, companies such as "Goliath Casket" (you can guess what it makes) have reason to be bullish about the future.
For your further reading pleasure, here are some articles of possible interest:
- Big Winners for Small Investors
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- Huge Returns for the Lazy
Coca-Cola is an Inside Value pick, while Kraft is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick.