With obesity reaching epidemic proportions, an increasing number of US consumers are turning to weight-loss products to help them fight the fat. Which companies operate in this US$34bn market? Which active ingredients are used in the products that burn fat, cut carbs or suppress the appetite? Julie Shapiro has the answers.

Images of glamorous slim movie stars and wafer thin models fuel the growing weight loss market. The American Dietetic Association estimates the market for weight loss products and programs at US$34bn. According to a Market Data Enterprise Inc study (which estimated this market at US$30bn) the market is comprised of commercial diet programs such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutri/System, Physicians Weight Loss, Diet Center, meal replacements (Slim-Fast, Sweet Success, others) and non-prescription multi-ingredient diet pills and single ingredient diet pills, medical weight loss programs, prescription diet drugs, low-calorie foods, diet soft drinks and artificial sweeteners.

Despite the media-generated ideal that slim is beautiful quite the opposite trend is happening. Obesity is reaching epidemic proportions. This condition is defined as being 30% over ideal body weight. About US$240bn per year is spent on the treatment of obesity related conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and high blood pressure.

According to a recent study (RGA-111 Weight Loss Products: Supplements, Foods and Beverages) from Business Communications Co., Norwalk, Conn., an estimated 40 million Americans are classified as obese. Projections from the WHO (World Health Organisation) suggest that by the year 2025 levels of obesity could be as high as 45-50% in the USA, between 30-40% in Australia, the UK and Mauritius and over 20% in Brazil. About US$240bn per year is spent on the treatment of obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and high blood pressure. International health agencies and the media are engaged in on-going campaigns to educate the public about the dangers associated with obesity. This public awareness campaign is generating increased demand for weight loss products.

A report by Key Note estimates the value of the slimming foods market to be £5.85bn (US$8.34bn) in 2000, rising to £6.42 bn in 2004. In 1999, the total sales for weight loss supplements, foods, and beverages in the US were estimated at US$19.2bn (BCC).

“The weight loss market for food and beverages is expected to increase at an annual compounded growth rate of 3.7% for the next four years, reaching US$17.5bn by 2004.”

The weight loss market for food and beverages is expected to increase at an annual compounded growth rate of 3.7% for the next four years, reaching US$17.5bn by 2004. The weight loss supplements market, which was at US$4.6bn in 1999, is expected to grow faster than foods and beverages hitting US$6.4bn in sales by 2004.

A 2001 report by Nutrition Business Journal reports that US sales of sports nutrition products grew 12% in 2000 and reached US$5.3bn. This report combined sports nutrition and weight loss markets. Sports supplements – mostly protein powder, multi ingredient supplements, and single ingredients such as Creatine – represent US$1.6bn; nutrition bars (some also used for weight-loss) US$1.1bn; and sports and energy drinks US$2.6bn. Sales are expected to jump from US$5.3bn in 2000 to US$7.8bn in 2004, at an annual average increase of 10%. The NBJ 2001 reports that the combined sports nutrition/weight loss market reached US$8.7bn in 2000.

Non-prescription OTC diet products are sold through retail, mail order, multi-level marketing, web sites, and infomercials. There are thousands of companies marketing products in this arena. Some of the companies focusing on the retail marketplace include: Country Life, Nature’s Life, Twin Labs, Natural Balance, Nutraceutical Corp., Natrol, Nature’s Secret, Solgar, Enzymatic Therapy, Source Naturals, Arkopharma, Metabolic Response Modifiers, and Sports Pharma.

How do they work?

In general these diet formulas contain ingredients that act as lipotrophic factors, insulin aids, thermogenics, stimulants, and fat binders. Lipotrophic factors have traditionally been used in diet formulas for years. These are substances, which may liquefy or homogenize fats. These include: L-methionine, choline bitartrate, inositol and betaine HCL.

“The use of insulin aids in weight loss is a fairly new concept.”

The use of insulin aids in weight loss is a fairly new concept. Insulin aids examine the role of insulin resistance in weight gain and health risks. When insulin function is impaired research has shown that it can lead to fat deposits (obesity) and diabetes. The most widely used insulin aids in the marketplace include: chromium picolinate (Chromate), chromium polynicotinate, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and hydroxycitric acid (HCA) aka citrimax/garcenia cambogia.

Thermogenics means “heat production”, and the name is aptly applied for these products are known to speed up the metabolism which in turn causes more calories to be burned. One of the most well known thermogenics is ephedra (ma huang), which has been associated with controversy. Other thermogenics ingredients include: caffeine, yerba mate, guarana, gotu kola, citrus aurantum (bitter orange) and coleus forskiohlii root which is fairly new to the marketplace and is being touted as one of the hot new ingredients.

While most people may think of stimulants as caffeine-containing products, in the diet arena the word has a different connotation. Stimulants in this context mean products that work to increase bowel movement and prevent calorie absorption. Most of these stimulants are used in diet teas, but many have been showing up in increasing number in multi-ingredients diet formulas. These include: senna, aloe, rhubarb, buckthorn, and cascara sagrada. Fat binders have been shown to block fat. For that reason alone many consumers take them blindly believing that they can eat whatever they want and that their fat absorption will be blocked. The primary fat binder being marketed is chitosan made from a fiber in shellfish.

Many core diet formulas use lipotrophic factors combined with specialty ingredients. Examples include: Country Life’s Lipotrophic Metabolizer which includes: B vitamins B-6, choline, inositol and amino acids L-methionine, L-taurine (insulin mimicker) betaine, and barberry root (diuretic). Nature’s Life Lipotrophic Complex includes lipotrophic factors plus L-carnitine (fat burner), chromium picolinate (insulin aid), milk thistle (detoxifier), lecithin (breakdown of fat), betaine, apple cider vinegar, beet root, dandelion (diuretic), and culver’s root (liver health).

Related Research Report:

The Slimming Market

Twin Labs Diet Fuel takes a different approach with its focus on thermogenic and insulin aids. Their formula includes: chromium picolinate, ma huang (ephedra), guarana (caffeine), citrimax (HCA) plus L-carnitine, potassium and magnesium. Natural Balance’s Ultra Diet Pep combines lipotrophic factors, insulin aids, diuretics and other specialty nutrients. Their formula includes: B vitamins B-6, B-12, pantothenic acid, choline, inositol and chromium and potassium plus: ephedra, guarana, green tea, dandelion, ginger, passion flower (calming), kelp (metabolism balancing), gymnema sylvestre (diuretic/glucose control), pullulan and bromelain (digestive enzyme).

Cutting edge multi-ingredient formulas include: Country Life’s Glucolean, Sport Pharma’s Thyro-Burn, Nature’s Secret Crave Less, Natural Balance’s Super Hormone Diet and Enzymatic Therapy’s 7 Keto Natural Lean. Country Life’s Glucolean includes: selenium, chromium, guggul extract (used in Ayurvedic medicine for obesity), gymnema sylvestre, coleus forskohil extract, alpha lipoic acid (antioxidant), bitter melon extract, D-pinto (3-0-methyl-d-chiro-inositol).  Sports Pharma’s Thyro-Burn includes vitamin B-6, phosphorous, magnesium, guggul extract, chromium picolinate, phosphatidyl serine, phosphatidyl choline (ps, pc. memory enhancer) and L-tyrosine and acetyl-l-tyrosine (mood elevation/anti-depression agents).

Nature’s Secret Crave Less includes: calcium, magnesium, potassium, citrimax, triphala fruit (antioxidant), cascara sagrada (stimulant), n-acetyl D-glucosamine (joint strength), borage oil (essential fatty acids), L-glutamine (muscle growth), L-phenylalanine (pain reliever), L-tyrosine, chickweed (appetite suppressant), natural diuretics include: dandelion, astragalus (diuretic) and atracylodes macrocephala (diuretic) and echinacea (immune system). Natures Balance’s Super Hormone Diet includes: B vitamins B-6, B-12, chromium, L-carnitine and DHEA (hormonal supplement used in anti-aging and weight loss). Enzymatic Therapy’s formula includes: iodine, copper, manganese, 7-keto-DHEA (specialized form of DHEA), L-tyrosine, asparagus and B vitamins choline bitartrate and inositol.

Single ingredient products are huge in number and follow along the lines of insulin aids, thermogenics, stimulants, and fat binders. Some of the hot ingredients include: Natrol’s tonalin (CLA), Nutraceutical Corp.’s chitosan and Arkopharma’s Exolise green tea extract. Others ingredients marketed individually include: chromium picolinate, pyruvate and citrimax (HCA).

By Julie Shapiro, just-food.com correspondent

To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

Centre for Food & Health Studies New Nutrition Business Journals

Diet and Fat Free Foods (UK)