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Exploratory Research to Understand Consumer Receptivity to the Concept of Energy Balance

May 11, 2005

In today’s environment, there is much attention being paid to the causes of obesity. This is difficult to pinpoint, as obesity is a very complex issue with various social, genetic, and environmental factors contributing. What we do know is that weight is maintained when calories consumed are equal to calories expended, a concept known to health professionals as “energy balance.” An imbalance in this energy equation over time will either lead to weight gain or weight loss, depending on whether the imbalance creates a surplus or deficit.

Given increased discussion of energy balance in the environment, the Dietary Guidelines Alliance conducted qualitative consumer research to examine:

  • What, if anything, the term “energy balance” means to consumers
  • How consumers think about food input and energy output and whether they ever feel the need to balance the two
  • Re-test messages from the It’s All About You program

Four focus groups were held in Chicago and Baltimore.  Participants were selected based on the following criteria:

  • Two groups of women between the ages of 25-39 and 40-55
  • Annual household income between $25,000 and $80,000
  • BMI between 22 to 29
  • Concerned about their weight
  • Comfortable discussing body weight in a group setting


Groups were further divided into participants who “maintained balance” and those who “had trouble stabilizing weight.”

Topline findings included:

  • Consumers react positively to the word “balance” and see it as a holistic condition in their lives that they would like to achieve
  • They associate “energy” with the feeling of having energy to do the things they want and need to do, not with calories; In fact, consumers react negatively to calories and the idea of having to count them to manage their weight
  • “Energy balance” does not mean balancing food intake and energy expenditure to consumers
  • Each consumer approaches weight management in a different way; They acknowledge that there are three components that play a role in weight (what you eat, how much you eat, and how much you move), but each individual feels differently about what is most important, and in what amount, to reach their goals
  • Overall, consumers still perceive the It’s All About You messages as being positive and motivating

Access the full research report (PDF)

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