Digital weight loss solutions are poised to mitigate the global pandemic of obesity

Obesity is a global pandemic, which is still poorly met by healthcare systems anywhere in the world. A wider use of digital weight loss solutions, especially those accessible via smartphones, can significantly contribute to the global effort of tackling the obesity pandemic. This is poised to be driven by the global expansion of digital weight loss players in the mid-term future.

Every third human on Earth is overweight. According to the World Bank, the overweight prevalence rate (adults with BMI over 25 kg/m2, including the obese) reached 38% of the global adult population in 2016.(1) Given the historic growth rate, the overweight prevalence rate is set to slightly exceed 40% of the global adult population in 2019. This effectively translates into 2.3 billion overweight adults globally. Closely associated with various chronic conditions and their comorbidities, excessive weight (including obesity) is currently one of the three major causes of mortality globally. The scale and timespan of this pandemic dwarfs the current COVID-19 crisis. As the World Bank reports, up to 68% of all deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases, with three types of them – cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and diabetes – being diet-related. (2)

Reducing obesity is a global priority, as it affects the vast majority of the countries, both rich and poor. As a new report by Research2Guidance shows, the problem of excessive weight is no longer associated only with developed nations, increasingly affecting developing countries as well. In 2019, only 23% of the global overweight population lived in the so-called high-income countries (North America, Western Europe, Japan, etc.), whereas the majority of the global overweight population was concentrated in lower middle-income countries (such as India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.) and upper middle-income nations (such as China, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, etc.).

By 2025 11 percent of the overweight people with access to smartphone will use digital weight loss solutions globally

Tackling the problem of obesity requires immense resources and can easily overstretch even the most advanced healthcare systems. Fortunately, the rapid development of digital healthcare can substantially alleviate this enormous task. There is already a vast amount of digital weight loss solutions available worldwide. Moreover, the vast majority of them reach to the most personal digital screen of all – the smartphone. As the Research2Gudance analyst team reports, mobile weight loss solutions have already created a global multi-billion market of over 6,000 solutions, which target both the end user audience and payers, such as insurance companies and employers.

The leading mobile weight loss solutions, such as Noom, have proven to be more efficient than on-site weight loss programs, producing quite a big amount of clinical evidence. This in turn prompted the digitalization of traditional on-site weight loss companies, such as WW International. The COVID-19 crisis has even accelerated the rapid digitalization of the weight loss industry, without affecting the growth in the number of mobile users of weight loss solutions.

Mobile weight loss solutions are not accessible for the entire overweight population. However, the rapidly growing smartphone penetration rate has already created the global addressable market of 1.5 billion people with access to capable mobile devices. Still, only 5% of them use mobile weight loss solutions. Yet in some markets, such as the U.S., the U.K., and Japan, the user adoption rate already exceeded 13% of the addressable market.

The geographic distribution of users of mobile weight loss solutions is highly uneven and does not correspond to the distribution of the overweight population. In the current mobile weight loss market, North America and Europe are the leading regions, although their shares in the global overweight population are much lower.

Two major factors stand behind this uneven distribution: Access to smart devices and cultural perceptions. Europe and North America feature the highest smartphone penetration rates worldwide, exceeding 80% of the adult population in some of the most advanced markets. This technological advantage is augmented by both high rates of obesity (the overweight prevalence surpasses 60% of adult population in more than a half of Western nations) and – on the other hand – strong cultural and societal traditions of fitness and weight loss activities. As a result, most of the leading mobile weight loss solutions have been developed and expanded in Western markets, especially in the U.S.

The leading commercial and reimbursement digital weight loss providers have managed to establish strong brands, which nonetheless still lack real global span. In the commercial weight loss segment, only WW International has approached truly global recognition. Yet even the world’s biggest weight loss company derives the lion’s share of its digital revenues from a single country market, the U.S. In case of Noom, the second biggest digital weight loss player, the share of the U.S. market exceeds 90% of the total revenue, whereas Livongo Health and Omada Health– the leaders in the weight loss payer segment – are still 100% U.S.-based companies.

The COVID-19 has severely affected the economy of the U.S., which will continue to endure economic and social difficulties in the next few years. Although the pandemic crisis will have global implications, the over-reliance on the U.S. market results in the lack of diversification and cannot be strategically viable for weight loss market players in the post-pandemic phase.

When the pandemic is over, the success of the leading digital weight loss providers will be largely dependent not only on a quick recovery in the U.S. but also on successful international expansion. This expansion is expected to increase the global reach to at least 11% of the global addressable market by 2025. It will significantly contribute to mitigating the current regional differences in access to digital weight loss solution, helping many more individuals to decrease mortality risks and improve the quality of living.

For more information, get the new report by Research2Guidance!

(1) DataBank by World Bank(2) Obesity: Health and Economic Consequences of an Impending Global Challenge. – World Bank Group, 2020

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