The health and 'appiness' drive in the Mena

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The health and appiness drive in the Mena
Since 2012, conversations about healthy eating and natural foods stayed constant, while talks about fast food dived 62 per cent.

Dubai - How social media is influencing people to shape up

By Alvin R. Cabral

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Published: Thu 29 Jun 2017, 8:45 PM

Last updated: Fri 30 Jun 2017, 6:37 PM

When the word 'healthy' or 'healthful' comes up, the first thing that probably comes to mind is food.
Let's throw in two more things related to it that you may be ignoring into this conversation to whet your appetite. And to make even more drooling, let's add a pinch of social media and how this is affecting this whole healthful piece.
When it comes to staying healthy, there is a stark contrast to how it was being done before (aerobics class?) compared to today (you believe anything smart can really help you?). With the help of technology, more people are leaning toward living a healthier lifestyle - and social media is apparently playing some kind of role in it.
The case in the Middle East and North Africa region is no different, according to a study by Crimson Hexagon, as awareness through digital channels is not just promoting interest, but also growing it and showing the pulse of the people.
 
Clean sweep: Green revolution in the desert?
The Middle East and oil could likely be intertwined forever. And when crude is mentioned, emissions and its effects on the environment cannot be far behind.
However, awareness is spreading, thanks to social media conversation - and the study shows that the Middle East is becoming more focused on clean and energy-efficient cars.
Hybrid cars weren't much of a discussion in 2012, but the voice has since grown in a matter of years. In that year, traditional automobiles in the Mena made up 83 per cent, while hybrids got 17 per cent. Fast-forward to 2016, and the latter has closed the gap; it was at a 52-to-48 per cent count in 2016, still in favour of the traditionals.
The UAE is doing its part in promoting not just energy-efficient cars per se, but more importantly the benefits they bring to the table - or, more aptly, the road. Oh, and they aren't necessarily that expensive (as long as you get one that suits your budget).
"Hybrid cars are an affordable transport solution that have a direct positive impact on the environment and pose no changes on the driver's behaviour," Yousuf Al Raeesi, director of government affairs, health, safety, security and environment at Al-Futtaim Motors, says.
Side note: while hybrid and electric cars are on the rise in English-language conversations, petrol is still the real deal among Arabic speakers.
How real? The study shows that Arabic speakers talk about petrol virtually 100 per cent, with hybrid and electric cars pitifully settling for less than one per cent each.
Meanwhile, conversations around hybrid and electric cars have increased by 31 per cent. Let's dig deeper into that.
The analysis reveals that while hybrid cars experienced a spike in posts in 2013, it has largely remained flat - paving the road for electric vehicles to clearly win this battle so far. From January 2010 to January 2016, total post volume was 3,275 for the former, against 22,945 for the latter.
If we go by country, both electric and hybrid cars are popular in the UAE, but consumers in Saudi Arabia and Egypt are more likely to discuss electric cars, while hybrids take the top spot in Jordan.
This isn't even close, but the conclusion is clear: the data makes a compelling case that Middle East consumers are becoming increasingly interested in electric cars, hybrid conversation has stalled and discussion of petrol-guzzling cars is going in reverse.
What's behind all this? Simple: an analysis of conversations against Twitter posts show that the interest in cleaner cars is part of a larger trend of going greener, more environmentally-focused Middle East consumers, who show related interests in topics like climate change, solar energy and sustainability.
 
The 'eat' factor
Since we're now submerged into becoming health-conscious, what better way can we digest this further with food?
When it comes to eating, since 2012, conversations about healthy eating and natural foods stayed constant, while talks about fast food dived 62 per cent.
If you look at the numbers though, the considered-as-poster-child for unhealthy eating still rules the social media waves: from January 2012 to January 2016, healthy eating raked in 52,767 posts, way below fast food's 243,303. That drop, however, is still an encouraging sign that people are becoming more aware of the benefits and dangers of what they're eating.
However, when it comes to Arabic-language conversations, it's the exact opposite, and it's not even close: healthy eating eked out 95,427 posts, while fast food loyalists chucked in a whopping 10.08 million.
Sentiment has also evolved. From January 1, 2012 to October 8, 2016, social conversation around healthy eating has a net positive sentiment of 31 per cent, versus 15 per cent for fast food - and it also revealed that talks regarding the latter has dropped 16 per cent.
"The correct diet ensures a healthy mind and when people are in this state... they reach their optimum potential," said Shamma bint Sohail Faris Al Mazrui, UAE Minister of State for Youth Affairs.
And for the vegetarians and vegans, rejoice: conversations regarding this has spiked 169 per cent during the period.
Why? There were four factors that define why more people are opting for this diet: it's fashionable (39 per cent), for health reasons (30 per cent), for animal rights (20 per cent) and for environmental concerns (10 per cent). What's more, there are more female who eat this way, beating out the men 58 per cent to 42 per cent.
Switch over to Arabic posts and you'll find out that health is the No.1 reason why they opt to go on a veggie spree (48 per cent), followed by being fashionable (24 per cent), environment (15 per cent) and animal rights (14 per cent).
But fashion has the last laugh: breaking it down year-by-year, healthy eating has become more fashionable in the last half-decade, the huge reason why it's gaining steam - it's up from 22 per cent in 2012 to 39 per cent last year. Health reasons, meanwhile dropped from 43 per cent to 30 per cent, animal rights slipped from 30 per cent to 20 per cent and environmental concerns doubled from five per cent to 10 per cent. In short, the fashionable aspect of healthy-eating talk has risen 25 per cent, significantly outdoing the other reasons.
 
Walk - and exercise - the talk
Anything on the healthy conversation wouldn't be complete without workout, right? How many of your friends have a gym subscription, by the way? The study found out the six most-discussed sports and fitness options: football (no surprise), golf, rugby, skydiving (yes), crossfit and yoga.
If you look at it carefully, yoga could be the odd one out. But guess what? Among the six, it's yoga that has significantly risen from four per cent in 2012 to 10 per cent last year (football, while still the dominant option, was down to 72 per cent from 81 per cent).
And what's driving interest in yoga? The analysis showed that there's a familiar trend when it's discussed in social media: in addition to unsurprising topics such as fitness and health, fashion-focused topics such as 'celebrity' and 'film industry' were seen. In short, the growing interest in yoga seems at least partially related to the desire to have a modern and fashionable lifestyle (fashion still rules, huh?).
Arabic speakers, meanwhile, have a clear goal (pun intended): football and handball were tops, with yoga hardly mentioned.
The study concludes by saying that "social media has helped Middle East consumers tap into modern, global issues, and as a result, they have absorbed and nurtured an environmentally-friendly, health-focused market".
And that's just the social media part of it; imagine if everyone who has a thought on this lifestyle decided to rage about it in cyber-space - we'd have an even "healthier" discussion.
- alvin@khaleejtimes.com



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