Open Access Open Badges Research

Segmentation of overweight Americans and opportunities for social marketing

Jane Kolodinsky1* and Travis Reynolds2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Community Development and Applied Economics, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT, USA

2 Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2009, 6:13  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-6-13

Published: 8 March 2009



The food industry uses market segmentation to target products toward specific groups of consumers with similar attitudinal, demographic, or lifestyle characteristics. Our aims were to identify distinguishable segments within the US overweight population to be targeted with messages and media aimed at moving Americans toward more healthy weights.


Cluster analysis was used to identify segments of consumers based on both food and lifestyle behaviors related to unhealthy weights. Drawing from Social Learning Theory, the Health Belief Model, and existing market segmentation literature, the study identified five distinct, recognizable market segments based on knowledge and behavioral and environmental factors. Implications for social marketing campaigns designed to move Americans toward more healthy weights were explored.


The five clusters identified were: Highest Risk (19%); At Risk (22%); Right Behavior/Wrong Results (33%); Getting Best Results (13%); and Doing OK (12%). Ninety-nine percent of those in the Highest Risk cluster were overweight; members watched the most television and exercised the least. Fifty-five percent of those in the At Risk cluster were overweight; members logged the most computer time and almost half rarely or never read food labels. Sixty-six percent of those in the Right Behavior/Wrong Results cluster were overweight; however, 95% of them were familiar with the food pyramid. Members reported eating a low percentage of fast food meals (8%) compared to other groups but a higher percentage of other restaurant meals (15%). Less than six percent of those in the Getting Best Results cluster were overweight; every member read food labels and 75% of members' meals were "made from scratch." Eighteen percent of those in the Doing OK cluster were overweight; members watched the least television and reported eating 78% of their meals "made from scratch."


This study demonstrated that five distinct market segments can be identified for social marketing efforts aimed at addressing the obesity epidemic. Through the identification of these five segments, social marketing campaigns can utilize selected channels and messages that communicate the most relevant and important information. The results of this study offer insight into how segmentation strategies and social marketing messages may improve public health.