HELPING CONSUMERS BE THEIR OWN HEALTH ADVOCATES

Kristy Appelhans, Vice President, Global Consumer Safety, Herbalife Nutrition

What comprises good health? With so many products on the market, there is often confusing information concerning its safety and efficacy. Amid a barrage of product claims, contradicting news and erroneous product claims, how should consumers decide? Reputation, conducting preliminary research, tech assistants and investing in mental health are some aspects both consumers and healthcare professionals can look more into, in the drive towards individual health advocacy.

What comprises good health? For some, having a good immune system and proper food consumption may suffice. For others, it is increasingly about taking vitamins, minerals and other dietary supplements that offer functional benefits that we may not obtain from our everyday diets. Unfortunately, with so much information sources and the wide array of nutritional supplements in the market, it can get confusing for consumers to assess their needs, and the safety and efficacy of the options available.

A report by Ernst & Young (EY)1 revealed that the pandemic has underlined the importance of health, fitness and wellness in Asia-Pacific consumers, and they are concerned with protecting their health and that of their family. There is also strong consumer interest2 in using nutritional supplements as one way to boost their immune health. In parallel, a Herbalife Nutrition Myths survey3 revealed that 60 per cent of consumer respondents in Asia-Pacific were confused about nutrition facts, while less than a quarter answered half or more questions of a general knowledge nutrition quiz accurately. Against this backdrop, it is essential that consumers who are receptive to and geared for a healthy lifestyle, have adequate access to the right information.

Consumers see healthcare professionals (HCPs) as a trusted source of nutritional information. As such, HCPs are well positioned to educate consumers on good nutrition and the supportive role of supplements, so that consumers can eventually become their own health advocate. Here are a few thoughts that can help HCPs guide people to achieving their personal wellness goals in a consistent and sustainable way.

The importance of micronutrients

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that our bodies need in small amounts to function properly. However, more than 2 billion4 people, or one in every three individuals, suffer from what is known as hidden hunger, or micronutrient deficiencies globally.

In addition, a Herbalife Nutrition survey5 revealed that only 33 per cent Asia-Pacific consumers are very knowledgeable about the health benefits of vitamins and supplements and four in five said they would like to know more about the benefits of different vitamins and supplements. Therefore, it is unsurprising that many individuals do not meet the recommended intakes for many essential micronutrients, to the detriment of their overall wellbeing.

This is where HCPs can step in to reinforce the importance of micronutrients to their patients and illustrate the various ways a healthy diet and supplementation can boost general immunity, health and physical fitness; as well as educate the consumers about thoughtful consumption. On the other hand, nutritional needs vary from person to person; they are influenced by factors like age, gender, life stage, dietary restrictions and wellness goals. It helps to consider a multi-faceted approach to wellness – targeted nutrition to support the organs, sleep, and mood – all contributing to an individual’s overall well-being.

For these reasons, consumers may find it difficult to get the right amount of nutrients solely through diet or require guidance to identify supplements that may be best suited for their personal dietary considerations. In these cases, consumers can also consult with their HCPs to properly incorporate supplementation in their daily nutritional regimen. This kind of patient-doctor transparency and partnership is critical in helping to support favorable clinical outcomes.

Reputation matters

The marketplace is filled with new nutrition products that claim compelling results. Consequently, consumers can often be overwhelmed by the wide selection of product options and have trouble telling facts from myths due to lack of research or understanding.

Beyond just looking at the lowest cost, there are other factors to consider because the quality of the ingredients and manufacturing practices can vary.

To begin with, getting solid information around the company’s governance, management team and group of advisors in public domains can establish an initial level of credibility. The next step is to understand the company’s dedication to science, quality, and safety. Does the company source their raw ingredients with the utmost care? Look for the company’s Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), product guarantee, third-party verifications and certificates (such as ISO 17025 or NSF) and level of scientific and medical experts employed.

Another way that consumers can keep track of updates regarding food and nutritional quality information is with their local government agencies and nutrition organisations. Most often than not, these agencies and organisations work in parallel with industry players to establish and improve food and nutritional standards. By keeping abreast with news from these agencies and organisations, consumers can make more informed decisions about their product selections. Some examples of credible information sources in the region include those from GERMAS in Indonesia, Korean Nutrition Society, Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM), International Life Sciences Institute Taiwan and National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) in Vietnam.

Supplement formats

Thanks to innovation and technology, consumers today have access to a wide range of supplement formats. With so many options, it may be difficult to choose the best one, but ultimately, it boils down to needs and preferences. Some of the most common forms include:

  • Tablets: These pills are made by crushing active ingredients. Since tablets do not have coatings, they can sometimes have an aftertaste to them
  • Capsules: With capsules, ingredients are enclosed in an outer shell. They may be in the form of pills that are coated with an easy-to-digest casing to prevent an aftertaste, or ingredients may be enclosed in a two-part capsule
  • Chews: Some consumers may prefer the experience of chewing supplements, so this alternative format can be more desirable
  • Gummies: Once just for children, gummies are now widely available for adults. The appeal is the easy-tochew and tasty format, and some may feature unique flavours
  • Powders: Many consumers prefer powders because they are easy to swallow and can be mixed with beverages or other liquids for simple consumption.
  • Functional beverages and liquid supplements: For consumers on the go, these liquid products contain supplemental nutrients and provide a convenient alternative to other formats. However, they commonly have a shorter shelf life once opened.

Mental health is wealth

These days, health also includes mental wellness and state of mind. It’s estimated6 that mobility restrictions and daily Covid-19 rates led to an additional 76.2 million cases of anxiety disorders globally in 2020 alone.

Now more than ever, there has been an urgent call to strengthen mental health systems, as well as for individuals to take steps towards promoting selfmental wellbeing. In this light, both HCPs and consumers should place greater emphasis on the importance of countering mental stress and other psychological illnesses. HCPs can make a conscious effort to engage with their patients and evaluate their mental wellbeing during consultations.

In the meantime, people should be encouraged to reach out for help when they feel their mental health is being compromised. Community support also makes a big difference. Joining a support group with those of similar health and wellness goals or life stage can help individuals feel encouraged and motivated in their personal journey.

Staying fit with technological assistants

Technology and social media also play important roles in healthy active living. Wearables and online platforms have enabled home-based consumers, whose mobility has been constricted due to lockdowns, to get fit from the comforts of their home. In a Herbalife Nutrition Health Inertia survey7 among 5,500 consumers, one in two respondents use technology tools such as fitness classes and videos, fitness trackers, fitness and workout apps and nutrition apps to support their healthy living regimens. Some also found that social media had a positive influence on their mental health, and cited factors such as reading motivational and light-hearted content as well as inspirational posts from social media influencers as having a positive effect on their psyche.

Technology has also enabled HCPs and even health entrepreneurs to reach their audiences more easily. We have witnessed more and more HCPs opting for digital channels and tools such as podcasts, webinars and Facebook Live sessions to stay connected with their communities. This has not just helped in building their own brand online but helped many consumers to be educated and get access to useful health related information.

Driving self-advocacy

Like anything – whether it is diet or exercise – consistency is key. Supplements are not a one-and-done deal; it needs to be incorporated into daily routines and
a lifelong wellness plan. Recent studies suggest that taking certain targeted nutrition supplements like selenium and CoQ10, lutein8 and calcium9 may have long-term benefits if taken consistently.

Encouraging self-health advocacy is crucial, especially with the pandemic’s need for HCPs to limit face-to-face interactions and reach out to consumers through other means. Helping consumers gain the ability to make more educated decisions about their nutritional needs in relation to their desired health outcomes is a step in the right direction. As we move to a postpandemic reality, self-care attitudes are essential in the longer term, with the deft guiding hand of HCPs along the way.

References:

1 https://www.ey.com/en_sg/consumer-products-retail/how-to-win-asia-pacific-consumers-in-the-new-era
2 https://www.fortunebusinessinsights.com/vitamins-andsupplements-market-104051
3 https://www.herbalife.com.sg/apacnews/press-release/nutrition-myth-top8/
4 https://www.globalhungerindex.org/issues-in-focus/2014.html
5 https://www.herbalife.com.sg/apacnews/press-release/survey--changing-health-priorities-in-asia-pacific/
6 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673621021437
7 https://www.herbalife.com.sg/apacnews/press-release/health-inertia---infographics/
8 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5894963/
9 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28351509/

--Issue 56--

Author Bio

Kristy Appelhans

As the head of Global Consumer Safety at Herbalife Nutrition, Kristy Appelhans oversees a comprehensive global post-market safety surveillance program and nutrition safety education. She is also frequently involved in various industry-related harmonisation and regulatory projects, including her advisory contributions in 2012 in collaboration with other organisations in the completion of IADSA’s (International Alliance of Dietary Supplement Associations) Global Guide to the Handling of Adverse Event Complaints. Amongst her numerous publications related to global food and dietary supplement safety and surveillance, Dr. Appelhans co-authored a chapter on post-market safety surveillance in the book titled New Product Development in Nutraceutical and Functional Foods: from concept to market.

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