Australians are increasingly mindful of how they look. What are their top concerns? According to the results of the 2012 annual survey conducted by the Cosmetic Physicians Society of Australasia, skin tone topped the list of concerns, accounting for over 60 percent of the responses. This annual survey— conducted in April/May this year in collaboration with Costhetics.com.au—included responses from 751 participants. The ratio of women to men, 97: 3, reflects the Australian cosmetic medicine market, which is a split 92:8 female to male.

Fine lines, loss of volume in the face, weight and appearance of the abdomen made up the top five concerns for survey participants. Just over a quarter of the responses showed concerns about the neck, buttocks and thighs. Nearly a quarter were also concerned about veins, deep wrinkles and décolletage. The appearance of hands and arms were of concern to 23 percent each.

Although it appears from the survey that Aussies are more concerned about clear skin than their waistlines—even raising red flags of concern about priorities—looking at overall spending patterns on surgery, cosmetic procedures and weight loss show that Australian consumers are spending money where it really matters: in weight loss and fitness.

In December 2011, industry watcher IBIS World predicted that Australians would spend almost $7 billion on their appearance in 2011/2012. Of this, the traditional hair and beauty sector would account for nearly $3.8 billion. The rest would be made up of fitness and weight-loss efforts and cosmetic procedures.

Australians were expected to be out of pocket an estimated $1.8 billion on fitness and weight-loss, including $1.7 billion on gym and fitness training. The estimated total spend on cosmetic procedures amounted to a total of $1.4 billion, with $6 out of every, $10 being for cosmetic surgery. Only lap-band procedures amounting to $117 million were included in the weight loss category for this period, while more common weight-loss procedures, such as liposuction and tummy tucks, were included under the cosmetic surgery heading. This means that the weight loss and fitness market is in fact far bigger than these figures indicate.

“It is no surprise that people place a higher importance on skin tone than on their weight or waist line,” says Louisa McKay of Costhetics, the Australian cosmetic medicine website. “After all, more than 90 percent of Australians have fair skin, and the risk of premature skin ageing is a daily reality for us throughout the year. Studies have shown that premature skin ageing among Australians, mostly due to sun exposure, can begin as early as the 20s. Sun damage causes sagging and wrinkles way before our time. So the widespread concern about skin tone is really well placed.

“Frankly, I believe people have their priorities right when it comes to how they spend their discretionary dollars. That Australians are also obsessed with weight and fitness is no secret when you look at how much we spend annually on getting in shape. For the 2012/13 period, for example, IBIS World predicts that the combined money spent on fitness and weight loss will be over 2.5 billion dollars. Australians are expected to spend most of this money on gyms, fitness centres and personal trainers (67%); and on weight-loss services including books and counselling (15%). Within the next five years, IBIS World expects the demand for health and weight-management services to continue to rise, topping 3 billion by 2017-18. And the two largest segments will see annualised growth rates of 3.7% and 3.3% respectively.

“Sure, this growth rate appears insignificant compared with top growth industries like diamond and gemstone mining, electricity generation and preschool education, all of which are expected to see record growth rates topping 25% for this same period, but the fitness and weight loss industry’s growth potential is nothing to sneer at either.

“Scary facts like two thirds of Australian adults and a quarter of our kids are obese, and that over half of all Australians—55% of men and 64% of women—have a waistline that puts them at an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer seems to have begun to seriously sink into the collective Australian psyche.[1][2]

“I found it interesting to hear Ms. Karen Dobie, IBISWorld’s Australian General Manager, making a connection between how television seems to have influenced first our growing waist lines and, more recently, our interest in slimming down:”

Many Aussies traded in their runners for the TV over the past decade. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, participation in vigorous exercise fell to just 15% of the population in 2008. However, increasing awareness of the dangers of being overweight, as well as the popularity of shows such as the Biggest Loser and Excess Baggage have driven resurgence in demand of gyms, fitness centres and personal trainers, contributing to year-on-year growth for Australia’s fitness industry.

McKay believes that “screen time is a key factor in staying fit.” Or rather, “it is a key factor keeping us from activities that help us stay fit”.

Looking at these trends we must not forget Generation Z—those who were born in the mid 1990s and who will make up approximately 13.2% of the population by 2015—because they are a key factor in this equation.

Gen Z waistlines are expanding with the general trends, but they have had some success in kicking one bad habit: they smoke less than the previous generation, leading to a downward trend in overall smoking. Gen Z is consuming more alcohol, however, spending more and more time surfing the internet and engaging in other social media activities than earlier “generations”. They are also spending more time watching sports and video games. We can expect ‘screen time’ among young Australians to continue on an upward trend. Whether the public health messages on obesity and chronic disease, combined with reality TV can triumph the addiction to screen time, turning Gen Z into a generation of fitness buffs is something only time will tell.

“I believe that Australians should be watching both our skin and our waistlines,” says McKay. “Right now, only one third of Australians maintain a healthy weight. If we don’t change our personal habits, this can drop to a quarter of the population, with just one in four Australians having a healthy weight. We can’t watch just one or the other. They both have a huge impact on our lives. We are, after all, made up of multiple integrated systems, so holistic thinking and focus is essential for our health and wellbeing.

“Real beauty does not come from just one thing or another; it comes from being happy, healthy and fit. And to become healthy and fit, we need to watch our calorie intake, activity levels and waistlines. There is no point in having a perfect nose or a perfect face if the rest of you is sick and unfit.”

The mission of Costhetics.com.au is helping consumers understand cosmetic procedures and their multiple options prior to making cosmetic medicine choices.

1. Mapping Australia’s Collective Weight Gain; The Conversation. 27 June 2012.

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