How Chinese people lose weight: Social listening exposes market demand

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In 2019, one in five Chinese people were overweight. In combination with this statistic, the beauty standards in China are relatively unforgiving towards extra weight. As a result, China’s demand for weight loss is rising quickly. But to penetrate China’s weight loss market, the question is how do Chinese people lose weight?

Chinese people are influenced by weight loss methods on social media and beauty standards of celebrities. Weight loss products sold by live streamers also provide novel selections of products through which Chinese people can lose weight. Additionally, both local and international brands tailor their products specifically aimed at Chinese people conscious of losing weight.  Additionally, Chinese traditional medicines such as acupuncture and herbal teas have found their place among modern weight loss methods. To see how Chinese people lose weight, we performed social listening.

Social Listening- How Chinese people lose weight on social media

Not afraid to waste food

A popular post on Zhihu (知乎) – a Chinese question-and-answer platform- states that the most sustainable way to lose weight is to continue to eat one’s favourite foods, but with disciplined moderation. According to the suggestion, one should only eat the dish until the point whereby cravings subside. After such a point, the post recommends that the dish should be immediately thrown away to avoid further eating. This then highlights how losing weight for the Chinese can take priority over concerns such as food waste.

Controlling food eaten at social gatherings

As eating out in groups is a key feature of socialising among friends in modern Chinese society, netizens on Zhihu (知乎) also provide advice to Chinese people on how to lose weight even eating out. Those hoping to lose weight should fill up on healthy food at home before heading out for gatherings. This would then minimise overeating during the actual meal.

Some Chinese advise eating foreign foods to lose weight

In addition, Zhihu posts also advise people to make healthy choices cuisine-wise when choosing a location to eat out. Such healthy cuisine choices are advised to be Japanese, Western, or French food, as they are perceived to have less oil and are hence healthier alternatives. Such a mind-set provides a possibility for foreign food and beverage brands to market themselves as a weight-loss friendly option. Popular Beijing-born South American restaurant MOKA Bros has done just that. It has become a staple among young locals through serving wholesome, authentic food in a cosy, vibrant atmosphere.

Source: Moka Bros Instagram, a selection of restaurant dishes which cater to China’s health conscious crowd

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) methods for weight loss

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a commonly used method for weight loss in China. For instance, acupuncture helps curb cravings, increase energy, and increase nutrient absorption. When the needles are inserted into certain vital points, they improve and restore the flow of life energy called “Qi”. According to Chinese medicine, “Qi” stagnation in certain areas of the body can cause weight gain.

Moreover, Acupuncture can be used to attain a ‘V-shaped’ face. When needles are inserted into certain vital points on the face and ears, they can help get rid of fatigue and puffiness on the face. This then aids the appearance of weight loss. This purpose of Acupuncture is used by celebrities in widely publicised videos on social media. For instance, Chloe Zhao, a Chinese actress and model, is known for relying on Acupuncture on her face in order to achieve such a slimming effect. Reactions from netizens have been mixed, with this method viewed as extreme and painful.

Source: QQ, celebrity Chloe Zhao gets acupuncture on her face

Weight loss food and beverages

TCM has a few ‘golden rules’ when it comes to weight loss. In TCM, food is divided into five elements: cold, cool, neutral, warm and hot. Chinese people hoping to lose weight are supposed to avoid ‘cold’ and ‘damp’ foods. Such foods include those rich with refined sugars, baked foods, and dairy products.

Tea is also regarded by the Chinese as a good weight loss tool. Oolong tea is believed to increase the body’s metabolism, causing people to  burn up to 10% fat, and drinking about two cups a day has system-cleansing properties according to TCM. Moreover, drinking tea before meals can aid in decreasing food cravings, and drinking tea after meals is regarded as limiting the body’s ability to absorb oil from food. Yet, it would appear that Chinese youth trying to lose weight do not drink a lot of tea. Certain domestic brands such as Farmer Spring (农夫山泉) and King of Teas (茶里王) have been viewed as largely unsuccessful in fitting the taste preferences of consumers.  

Extreme ways Chinese people lose weight

Beauty standards set by celebrities

How Chinese people lose weight is also influenced by beauty standards set by celebrities. Popular reality TV show ‘Sisters who make waves’ (乘风破浪的姐姐) showcased a segment whereby a participant on the show took out a scale to weigh her food and the amount of calories in it. She would only eat food which fell within a strict limit.

Source: Sohu, participants on ‘Sisters who make waves’

Hashtags: fitspo for Chinese people to lose weight

Extreme beauty standards are also pronounced on social media. Hashtags such as the ongoing “筷子腿” – literally translated as “chopstick legs” – show social media users posting photos of their ultra-thin legs which resemble chopsticks. Another ongoing trend is the ‘BM style’, whereby ‘BM’ is the alias for clothing brand Brandy Melville. Unlike in the USA, BM in China has in fact gained praise for being progressive by encouraging girls to show more skin instead of ‘hiding’. These trends follow previous trends such as ‘A4 waist’, which saw female netizens holding up an A4 paper in front of their waist. The goal was to show that their waists were smaller than the width of the paper. The line between healthy and unhealthy methods appears to be blurred for certain Chinese weight loss methods.

Source: AsiaOne, A4 challenge promoting extreme thinness in China

The sale of weight loss products via livestreaming

How Chinese people lose weight is also influenced by online livestreaming. Weiya (薇娅), a well-known live streamer in China, sells products such as specialised scales which enable users to access specific body data such as their basal metabolic rate and body fat percentage. Weiya (薇娅) has also sold a form of Pu Er tea (普洱) which is especially aimed at absorbing oil after a ‘fatty’ meal. The specific weight loss products for sale shows Chinese consumers are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing weight loss methods. This then means that even though there is fierce competition among products, Chinese consumers are also more open to trying novel means of losing weight.

Source: Bloomberg, Weiya livestreaming

How brands market to China’s  ‘weight loss’ crowd

Genki Forest

Genki Forest has become highly successful in being a staple drink for young Chinese people trying to lose weight. It sells a variety of drinks, from sugar-free soft drinks to low-sugar milk-tea. Genki Forest is known for its aesthetically pleasing packaging with incorporated Japanese elements. It promotes a carefree and fulfilling manner of being health conscious and losing weight, all while being easy to integrate into the daily lifestyle of its consumers. This holistic approach has been credited as being key to Genki Forest’s marketing success. This is especially because young consumers have become more demanding of products they consume, seeking not just taste, but also a sense of fulfilment. 

Source: Genki Forest, the first Chinese soft drink brand to use ‘0 sugar’ as a marketing tactic

Innocent Juice

Building upon the strong juice market in China, Europe’s best-known smoothie brand Innocent has entered China in 2020. Innocent also uses cultural reference points from daily life in order to find entry points to remind consumers to stay healthy and drink Innocent. For instance, it drew a link between the cut fruits that Chinese parents commonly provide for their children as a gesture of affection, with presenting one’s parents with Innocent as a gift.

Source: Innocent Juice, catering to health-minded Chinese families

What social listening teaches us about how Chinese people lose weight

Social media methods of weight loss are unique, exemplified by the perception that ‘Western’ or Japanese food are conducive for weight loss.  Traditional methods such as acupuncture appear to still be present, but less widely utilized.  However, this also emphasizes the opportunity that live-streaming provides for businesses to introduce innovative products to Chinese people hoping to lose weight. Finally, skinny is still perceived to be the equivalent of beautiful in China. Nonetheless, this also highlights a potential opportunity for brands to take the lead in promoting more holistic methods of weight loss focusing on overall well-being, as Genki Forest and Innocent have successfully done.


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