HEALTH

New IRI report highlights recession-era consumers, trends

BY Michael Johnsen

CHICAGO The current recession has created a new niche of consumers identified as the “Downturn Generation” by Information Resources Inc. in a news release Monday.

This new generation of Americans is adopting practices similar to Depression-era shoppers, implemented both to weather the recession and to keep a close eye on spending long after the recession ends.

The latest IRI Point of View, “Dissecting the Downturn Generation: Recognizing and Leveraging Permanence in Today’s Transformational Economy,” highlights how shoppers are changing behaviors to adapt to the unstable economy and uncovers the new habits they intend to continue even if the economy improves. The report reveals permanently changed approaches toward important rituals, including diet, self care and home maintenance and classifies three emerging categories of shoppers, which are:

  • Optimists – believe “things will get better during the next 12 months,” are spending wisely, cutting back selectively and making sacrifices as a last resort;
  • Maintainers – agree that, “the economy won’t get worse, but it won’t get better either” and are also spending wisely, but are more aggressive about making cutbacks;
  • Pessimists – identify with the direst predictions, believing “if you think times are hard now, next year will be worse” and are cutting back wherever possible and hunting tirelessly to find deals.

“Optimists, maintainers and pessimists are each weathering the recession in unique ways, but all three groups have made obvious behavioral and attitudinal changes and many admit they intend to prolong the use of their new methods,” stated IRI Consulting and Innovation president Thom Blischok. “We believe the Downturn Generation will continue their current behavior patterns until they have regained confidence in the U.S. economy. Interestingly, shoppers looked for a return of ‘stability’ as a signal that the economy is pulling out of the recession, in particular, ‘stability’ across gas, food and energy prices, as well as home values.”

Nearly 64% of shoppers characterize their financial condition as a little or a lot worse off than last year; approximately 30% believe their finances will be a little or a lot better one year from now. As many as 70% of shoppers note they have less savings than they used to, while an equally significant 71% agree they have less total wealth.

Even though gas prices have declined as much as 50% from the highs of fall 2008, 73% of surveyed shoppers state rising gas prices “Impacted” or “Strongly Impacted” their financial situation during the past six months. In addition, 75% note rising food prices “Impacted” or “Strongly Impacted” their financial situation, even though food prices have largely leveled off or declined since summer 2008.

Shoppers’ weakened financial conditions are profoundly affecting how they shop and what they buy. More than 69% say they are more likely to look through retailer ads for deals, nearly 82% are more likely to look for sale prices once in the store and just under two-thirds of consumers say price is becoming more important than convenience in brand purchases.

“Financial pressures are causing shoppers to give up favorite brands, buy smaller quantities of preferred items or postpone non-essential purchases for entertainment in order to save money for their most important needs,” Blischok said. “Additionally, between 30% to 47% of consumers are buying less healthy products, and fewer fresh produce and organic items. This is a fundamental shift from the trends we noted before the economic downturn.”

New approaches identified include consumers turning to the plethora of information available on the Internet to help prepare for purchases, clip online coupons and research reviews, commentary and opinions on products and services before making a purchasing decision. In fact, more than 44% of shoppers are using online resources to find coupons today, and 55% of them plan to continue this practice into the future.

Low prices and sale items continue to dominate shopper decisions at stores, and consumers are increasingly collaborating with friends, family and neighbors to share information, split membership costs and divide bulk goods purchased at a lower cost. Approximately 59% visit multiple stores for the lowest prices, and 42% of those shoppers will continue to do so into the future. Almost one-third of consumers are making bulk purchases with others not in their households to secure low unit prices, and 35% of those shoppers intend to continue doing so.

Consumers are also cutting back on their healthcare costs, opting to treat themselves at home versus visiting a doctor and increasing their use of over-the-counter medications. Nearly 44% of surveyed consumers are trading their doctor for information on the Internet and half of those shoppers will use this strategy in the future.

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CDC issues swine flu advisory alert as additional cases are reported

BY Michael Johnsen

ATLANTA The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health advisory alert over the weekend concerning the recent outbreak of swine flu, which in addition to confirmed cases in southern California and Texas has been found in Kansas, New York and Ohio, and south of the U.S. border in Mexico.

As of Sunday at 9 a.m., the CDC confirmed 20 swine flu cases — seven in California, two in Kansas, eight in New York City, one in Ohio and two in Texas.

To date, confirmed swine flu cases in the United States have been relatively mild, causing one hospitalization. Swine flu cases in Mexico have been more severe, resulting in 59 deaths so far.

New York Governor David Paterson on Saturday directed the New York State Department of Health to activate its infectious disease, epidemiology, laboratory, disaster preparedness and health systems staff to coordinate efforts across the state, as eight cases of probable swine influenza were identified in New York City earlier in the day.

“I want to reassure all New Yorkers that we are taking appropriate measures to address these probable cases of swine flu,” Paterson said. “The New York State Department of Health is working closely with the CDC, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, all local health departments across the State, hospitals, physicians, and other health care providers. [Earlier today], we shipped 1,500 treatment courses of Tamiflu to New York City. These will be used to treat any severely ill probable swine flu cases or household contacts of probable cases who have underlying chronic health conditions, placing them at extra risk.”

Complicating matters is the human influenza virus. While the 2008/2009 season has been winding down, for the week ending April 18 the CDC reported that New York is still measuring outbreaks of human influenza in more than two but less than half of the state’s regions. In California, human influenza is only prevalent in one region and Kansas has reported sporadic activity — small numbers of laboratory-confirmed influenza cases or a single laboratory-confirmed influenza outbreak has been reported, but there is no increase in cases of influenza-like illnesses.

It is not anticipated that the seasonal influenza vaccine distributed for the 2008/2009 flu season will provide protection against the swine flu H1N1 viruses, the CDC stated.

In addition to the CDC, the outbreak is also being tracked by the World Health Organization. WHO on Saturday suggested that the swine flu has the potential of becoming a global pandemic, though it is too early to tell. “WHO … is currently monitoring and assessing the evolution of the events in Mexico and in the United States related to the spread of swine influenza A/H1N1 virus,” the international health agency released in a statement Saturday. “The viruses so far characterized have been sensitive to [Tamiflu] oseltamivir, but resistant to both [older flu medicines] amantadine and rimantadine. … The rapid evolution of the events in Mexico and in the United States calls for a heightened degree of awareness and vigilance of both clinicians and public health professionals to ensure the early detection and management of possibly related events in countries other than Mexico and the United States.”

Persons with a temperature above 100 F accompanied with a severe cough or shortness of breath are being advised to stay home from work or school to avoid spreading the infection. In addition, frequent hand washing can lessen the spread of respiratory illness, the CDC noted.

As of April 25, CDC has confirmed 11 human cases of swine flu in the United States: seven in California, two in Texas and two in Kansas. CDC continues to investigate other suspected cases. Investigations are ongoing to determine the source of the infection and whether additional people have been infected with similar swine influenza viruses.

Illness onsets occurred between March 28 and April 14 for the majority of cases, affecting patients between the ages of 7 and 54.

The specific genetic makeup of the swine viruses has not been reported previously among swine or human influenza viruses in the U.S. or elsewhere, the CDC noted.Swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza that regularly cause outbreaks of influenza among pigs. These viruses do not normally infect humans, however, human infections with swine flu do occur.

Mexico has reported three separate events. In the Federal District of Mexico, surveillance began picking up cases of influenza-like illness beginning March 18. The number of cases has risen steadily through April and as of April 23 there are more than 854 cases of pneumonia from the capital. Of those, 59 have died. In San Luis Potosi, in central Mexico, 24 cases of influenza-like illnesses, with three deaths, have been reported. And from Mexicali, near the border with the United States, four cases of ILI, with no deaths, have been reported.

CDC has not recommended that people avoid travel to affected areas at this time.

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Study: UTIs more frequent in women with increased sexual activity, alcohol consumption

BY Michael Johnsen

LINTHICUM, Md. Increased sexual activity and alcohol consumption were associated with an increased risk of developing urinary tract infections, according to new research presented at the 104th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Urological Association on Sunday.

From July 2001 through April 2005, researchers studied 181 women with their first UTI who presented to the student health care facility at the University of Florida. The control group consisted of 80 women attending the clinic without a UTI. A clinic nurse administered a survey that addressed lifestyle habits and dietary intake. Results showed that frequency and urgency were the most common symptom, and that UTIs were most commonly found in women who had increased sexual activity and recent alcohol consumption. The use of sanitary napkins during menstruation also increased the risk for a first-time UTI.

Co-existing chlamydia, gonorrhea and yeast infections did not contribute significantly to urinary symptoms.

“If you are experiencing urinary frequency and urgency, you should seek medical attention,” stated Anthony Smith, an AUA spokesman. “A woman experiencing her first UTI might not recognize these symptoms immediately. But, medical attention is necessary because UTIs can lead to kidney infection and even sepsis. So, it is important for women who notice these symptoms to seek medical attention.”

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