Dieters trying technology to help lose weight

Dieting in January often follows Christmas excess but new research shows that technology has transformed losing weight into far more than a New Year’s ritual, while newer slimming plans such as the 5:2 diet are on the up.

Almost 60 per cent of people in the UK have been on a diet in the past 12 months and more than a quarter have been on two, according to new research seen exclusively by Marketing Week

More than half of 18- to 34-year-olds have been on two or more diets in the past year – a much higher number than for older age groups, reveals the study by research agency GMI into dieting trends in the UK. 

Government diet plan Change4Life has launched its new year push. Click here to see the ad and read about the campaign.

“There is media pressure to look a certain way, people are busier and work longer hours, and they perhaps don’t understand nutrition as much as they used to when people cooked from scratch more often,” explains Ralph Risk, marketing director EMEA at GMI. 

“Ready meals are offering people more menu choices and, while some are healthy, some are less so. There is less understanding of what healthy foods are,” he says. 

However, many more options are now available to dieters. Seventy-one per cent of those surveyed have tried their own ‘homemade’ diet plans and almost a quarter have tried plans from a book, while a fifth have opted for slimming classes.

Male and female dieting

Women are more likely than men to have followed a plan from a book or to have attended weight loss classes, while men are more likely to have followed a recommendation from a health professional, according to the survey. 

Engagement with diet apps will increase as they become more personalised. That is what we do: ‘one person, one diet’

“There may still be a stereotype to overcome. The challenge is driving men away from their preconceptions of what is a female thing and what is a male thing when it comes to diets,” says Risk.

Younger consumers – those aged 16 to 34 – are the most likely age group to have followed a TV or online plan and the least likely to have followed a DIY plan, but they are amenable to doing so in future. This demographic’s DIY dieters are also most likely to say that next time they would try a commercial plan.

Slimming World is the most popular commercial plan among those polled, followed by Weight Watchers and the ‘fast’ or 5:2 diet, where people continue with their usual eating habits for five days a week but consume a low number of calories on the remaining two days.

Overall, 27 per cent of men and 32 per cent of women have tried a commercial plan in the past year. Slimming World is most popular with women but the other diet plans are more likely to have been tried by men.

Weight Watchers is most popular with those under 55, while the fast diet is most likely to have been followed by those aged 35 to 54. 

Weight loss and lifestyle

The main factors in deciding which commercial plan to follow are a diet that will fit in with someone’s lifestyle and recommendations from friends and family, particularly for female dieters, according to the survey. 

“There’s lots of free advice out there. Brands need to focus on the benefits consumers can get from a commercial plan, whether that’s extra motivation or advice,” says Risk. “Consumers need to see real benefits from doing it. For instance, you can now buy meal plans that get delivered to you. Brands need to be able to demonstrate that there is an advantage and also make sure that it fits in with [people’s] lifestyle.”

Those who have not followed a commercial plan in the past year give the primary reasons as cost, lack of time to read books or attend classes, or the belief that commercial plans do not work.

Among people’s “very important” requirements from a diet, at least half of those polled say it must be easy to follow, with almost half requiring appetising food and 44 per cent favouring ease of purchase and preparation, as well as not having to buy special food.

32% of women have tried a commercial slimming plan in the past year; Slimming World is the most popular

“The driver is not necessarily price, although this must be considered,” says Risk. “It’s understanding how brands can target messaging and make sure that whatever plan people go on, it fits into their lifestyle. You don’t need to take people away from their normal purchase behaviour and routine; you just need to tweak it so that it becomes more successful.”

Eight out of 10 people have spent money on at least one diet, with books, DVDs or food the most likely areas of expense, while one in five has spent money on website fees or mobile apps.

Women are most likely to have spent money on books, DVDs, diet food and memberships for face-to-face classes or consultations, while men are most likely to have spent money on website fees, mobile apps or meal deliveries.

Almost a third of those surveyed have used a mobile app for some aspect of their diet.

Dieting apps

Unsurprisingly, 18- to 34-year-olds are most likely to say they prefer to use apps and websites to make their own plan, while 55- to 64-year-olds are most likely to say they prefer to follow the advice of a health professional.

“Younger people are much more attuned to using their mobile and the internet as a day-to-day tool. For older generations, while not new, it’s not natural as a first port of call,” says Risk. 

App use is also more popular in the south of England where 21 per cent say they use this technology, compared with 13 per cent in the Midlands and 10 per cent in the north.

“It might be a cultural thing as much as demographic,” says Risk. “If you look at the number of people who have smartphones in London compared with elsewhere, it’s quite a high skew. There’s always been a slightly more advanced use of technology in the big cities.” 

Online searches and recommendations are the main ways people find apps to help with diets, although one in five men said they found their app via a health professional’s recommendation. Free apps are the most commonly used, although one in five men used a paid-for app. If costs are taken out of the equation, most prefer to follow an online or mobile plan, rather than one with face-to-face interaction, with 18- to 34-year-olds the most likely to prefer some face-to-face interaction.  

“When you look on the App Store, there are so many free apps that may not be directly linked to any particular commercial plan,” says Risk. “Marketers need to make sure that when people get involved with an app, there is a real tangible benefit for them to upgrade to start spending money. Or have an app that’s complementary – something that records information and then they use that information in a meeting or to help track their progress.”

Despite this growing trend, paper diaries are most popular for recording diet progress, with more than a quarter of people using them, while 20 per cent say they use mobile apps.

Although most dieters say they lost weight on their most recent diet, more than one in ten said they did not lose anything.

Marketers’ viewpoint


José Luis Martin de Bustamante
Chief marketing officer
Nutrino (virtual nutritionist app)

People now have more access to diets, with many different apps available. Instead of visiting a nutritionist, dieters can access food trackers and free or cheap online services for diet plans. However, retention of dieters is low. While almost 60 per cent of people have been on a diet, how many have stuck with it? Although the numbers of people who go on a diet are high, engagement is a problem with online solutions. Currently, most web solutions are built with either static menus that are not personalised or food trackers that count calories. Engagement will increase as online diets become more personalised; that is what we base our technology on. We offer an infinite number of diets because our philosophy is “one person, one diet”.


Caryl Richards
Managing director 
Slimming World

Our biggest source of new members is people who have recommended us to friends. We spend significantly less on marketing than our major competitor [Weight Watchers]; our success comes from referrals and our service. People are wiser to the quick fix; not only is it money down the drain but it damages their self-confidence. People want something they can live with – plans that are easy to follow and forgiving if they have a lapse. It is getting harder to engage people in the South; they perhaps think they can diet independently. Women are more likely to take advantage of our group support while men tend to think exercise will do it or another commercial product. But when men come to Slimming World, they do really well and enjoy the camaraderie. 


GM foods’ downfall is all in the brand name

Mark Ritson

It does not get much more sensitive or more important than the debate over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food. Thanks to EU legislation, most GMOs have been banned from production in Europe and when they are present in our food their presence has to be explicitly and clearly declared on the label.


There is one comment at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Isaac Robertson 12 Nov 2021

    Let’s face it. These apps only serve as a motivation. Dieting all comes down to the person.

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