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Young urban Indians go wild for supplements

By Ankush Chibber , 30-Jan-2012

Easy availability and a growing interest in fitness trends see about 78% of adolescents in urban India consume at least one type of dietary supplement, a survey by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM) said.

The survey was conducted by the apex body with a social goal to shed light on Indian children becoming overly obsessed by substances that promise to boost energy, appearance, performance, immunity and overall health.

However, it also inadvertently shed light on consumption patterns of adolescents in Indian cities, revealing a majority of them consume at least one type of dietary supplement such as pills, energy drinks, and high protein supplements.

The survey put a figure on this consumption pattern revealing that on an average, respondents spend between 2,000 (US$40) to 4,000 (US$80) rupees per month on dietary supplements.

Bodybuilding trend means boost to supplement makers

The survey revealed that over 85% of school and college athletes said that their coaches and fitness trainer encouraged them to take such as pills and steroids, which are easily available at a chemist, to perform well.

The findings showed that 47% of the respondents had used supplements such as protein powders, creatine and amino acids to gain body mass, while another 55% had used supplements such as fat burners, high-energy drinks and caffeine pills in an attempt to lose weight.

86% of the respondents consumed sports drinks, 75% consumed vitamin and mineral tablets, 65% consumed energy drinks, 25% took herbal supplements, while 15% of them too high protein milk supplements.

Three quarters of the respondents preferred to use a pill or powder including dietary supplements even if it may harm their health and shorten their lifespan.

Health concerns remain about supplements

ASSOCHAM secretary general D S Rawat said that the Indian market for so-called energy drinks has grown exponentially in the last decade and that the primary targets of the industry’s marketing campaigns are young adults.

“School and college athletes are frequent consumers of the products,” said Rawat, adding that the proliferation of energy drinks and supplements despite possible negative effects, means coaches and athletic department administrators should take the initiative in educating student athletes about the products.

Commenting on the survey, Mumbai-based nutritionist and dietician Mrinalini M (first name only) told FoodNavigator-Asia that the survey was focused on bringing out the ill effects of supplements, but that it is too broad in its focus.

“The survey paints all supplements as bad. But an anabolic steroid and a dietary supplement have very little in common. So I am a bit surprised in clubbing them together in one survey,” she said.

Pointing out that the survey also covered herbal supplements, some of which in India are based on Ayurvedic ingredients, Mrinalini suggested the survey could have been segmented in a different way.

“What is interesting to note for supplement makers is that in line with lifestyle trends in India, young adults are not shy of using dietary pills or energy drinks. It does mean that the market is there and will grow,” she added.

Mrinalini however cautioned that dietary supplements do come with a minimum age requirement as to who can use them, so it would be unethical (maybe not illegal as there are no FSSAI rules around supplements) for companies to target young Indian children.

The survey was conducted in the major states-cities of Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Haryana, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Jaipur and Lucknow from October last year to January 2012.

Researchers belonging to the ASSOCHAM Social Development Foundation (ASDF) team interacted with around 2,500 adolescents, with an equal distribution of gender, in the age group of 14-30 years.

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