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The Growth of the Weight Loss Manufacturing Industry

by Jason Provenzano

According to the latest reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 34 percent of American adults and 17 percent of children are obese. Approximately 7 percent of American adults use over-the-counter (OTC) weight-loss supplements, with the highest percent of users being young women, according to the Journal of American Medical Association.

While improving self-image appears to be the most important priority for users of weight-loss supplements, obesity also causes a number of chronic health risks such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Many, therefore, turn to weight-loss supplements to improve overall health. With the variety of options available today, the weight-loss industry is equipped to fight the battle against the bulge with an assortment of weight-loss supplements. These include appetite suppressants, satiety inducers, fat blockers, thermogenic aids and diuretics.

The Beginning

Shortly after the invention of television that brought celluloid glamour into our homes, a new wave of image-consciousness hit American society. In the 1950s, doctors began prescribing diet pills containing amphetamines to patients who wanted to lose weight. Eventually, substance abuse by weight-loss patients prompted doctors to discontinue prescriptions in the 1960s. In the 1970s and 1980s, a weight-loss candy (appetite suppressant) called Ayds rose to fame, but quickly plummeted. As the fitness craze started, more Americans became health conscious and image conscious. The market was flooded with a variety of weight-loss supplement options ranging from overhyped magic bullets that drew the most sales to more subtle weight-loss aids.

After five decades, the weight-loss industry continues to grow rapidly. Popular supplements can be purchased online, in supermarkets and health stores at an affordable price and without a prescription. Alternate or complementary medicines have given rise to a number of herbal products that contain natural fat burners/blockers, appetite suppressants and energy boosters.

Not all has been smooth sailing, though. The weight-loss industry has had some turbulent times, too.  Product recalls by FDA in 2003 led to the banning of Ephedra. In 2008, Hydroxycut was banned because of its harmful effects on the liver. Between 2009 and early 2010, 70 fraudulent weight-loss products were recalled by FDA. But despite the negative publicity and the global economic downturn in recent years, the weight-loss industry has regained its momentum and continues to enjoy robust sales. 

Popular Weight-Loss Supplements

Hundreds of OTC weight-loss supplements consist of a single ingredient or a combination of ingredients. The most popular among Americans are fat burners and appetite suppressants. These products appeal to consumers as they address the two most desirable factors for enhancing weight loss: burning existing fat and suppressing the appetite for controlling calorie intake.

A  large segment of users are drawn to herbal or natural ingredients for weight loss. The effect of natural ingredients is believed to result in more natural weight loss, when compared to pharmaceutical weight-loss drugs, often associated with undesirable side effects. Some of these ingredients include:

  • Fat burners/blockers that contain bitter orange, chitosan, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), hoodia and green tea extract. Chromium helps to burn fat, suppress the appetite and build muscle.
  • Fiber such as psyllium, guar gum, sodium carboxymethylcellulose and glucomannan work as appetite suppressants.
  • Other popular ingredients include St. Johns wort, apple cider, licorice, dandelion, country mallow, ginseng, spirulina and more.

Formulations and Delivery Forms

Although many weight-loss supplements sell on sheer publicity hype, trends shows consumers are becoming savvier about the products they choose to purchase and put into their bodies. With more awareness and new research, there is an emphasis on safety, efficacy and quality. More consumers are reading labels and evaluating ingredients and manufacturers. Scientific formulations with ingredients that are substantiated by credible research are preferred.

The most popular delivery form for weight-loss supplements are capsules. However, tablets and herbal tea powders, as well as fiber powders/shakes and liquid delivery forms in a variety of flavors are also popular. Package design and label information also play an integral role in influencing consumers.

Obesity: The Growing Global Epidemic

More than 1.7 billion people are obese (Obesity Surgery, June 2003)approximately 25 percent of the world population. According to Marketdata Enterprises, a market research firm based in Florida, in 2004, the U.S. weight-loss market was valued at $46.3 billion; in 2007, it was worth $55 billion. Today, the estimation is more than $60 billion, with the herbal weight-loss supplement segment accounting for an estimated $20 billion. With the bulging problems that obesity poses, the demand for better formulated, scientifically based weight-loss supplements will continue to rise.

Jason Provenzano is the executive vice president of Nutricap Labs , a New York-based vitamin and supplement manufacturer specializing in the manufacturing of tablets, capsules, powders, liquids and creams, as well as in-house graphic design, packaging, labeling and order-fulfillment services.

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