Punk health: Why young Chinese are fuelling health supplement sales

9 Aug 2021

Around the world, the health supplement market’s biggest consumers tend to be older people. In China, however, it is the younger generation of ‘punk health’ aficionados who are fuelling supplement sales.

Known as ‘punk health’ (朋克养生 or pengke yangsheng), the phenomenon is defined by a high demand for health and wellness products among young people as they try to find ‘quick fix’ solutions to the impact of late nights and hard work.

Punk health: Why young Chinese are fuelling health supplement sales

Ellie Adams, managing director of Qiva Global, a consultancy that partners with international brands to further their business in China, said punk health is a colloquialism that “captures the competing pressures between health and having it all”.

Qiva Global attributes this paradox to a rising awareness of the importance of holistic wellness for health that is juxtaposed alongside an increasingly high-pressured and relentless lifestyle. In a recent survey, it found that 70% of young consumers are actively seeking to implement and practice wellness but, at the same time, over 60% admit to staying up late for work and leisure, while young people account for 65% of alcohol consumption in China.

“Yangsheng is about looking after your body and nurturing your life and pengke means punk. The whole concept is about people taking this concept of wellness but applying a very punkish attitude towards it, i.e., they will drink and smoke and take supplements along the way,” said Adams in a recent online webinar entitled ‘The growth of China's immuno-health market post-COVID’, organised by Fi Global CONNECT.

Punk health is currently a widely discussed phenomenon in China and a number of companies are responding with product launches to tap into the trend.

The By-Health brand, for instance, counts around 30% of its consumer base in the 18 to 35 age bracket, and marketing materials for vitamins and supplements often feature images of young people.

Punk health priorities: Immunity and bone health

While recent demand and interest in immune health has mostly been fuelled by older consumers in regions around the world - partly due to the increased morbidity risk for COVID-19 patients – immune health concerns are relatively consistent across all age groups in China.

One 2019 survey conducted by JD Health Data Center found that all consumers aged over 26 listed it as their number one priority (the only exception were consumers aged 16 – 25 who cited sports nutrition).

Adams said: “There’s every indication to suggest that Chinese consumers don’t treat this as a fad; it’s an ongoing attitude towards the maintenance of their health. I think this is another mindset shift, in that it’s no longer [about] reacting to poor health but much more about maintaining a balance of health to mitigate the problems that are associated with age.”

Similarly, the same JD Health survey showed that 26- to 35-year-olds listed bone health as their second highest priority even though this does not tend to be a major health problem that affects such young people.

From generation to generation

“We’re talking about a population who are having children and this attitude and mindset shift is shifting to their children,” Adams said. “So, what we are seeing is not just this colossal take-up of health and wellness by young people in China but the application of this philosophy to their children.”

This is reflected in sales. Last year, nutritional products became the second largest category of baby food after milk powder, growing 36% and fuelling demand for nutrients such as calcium, iron, zinc, vitamins, DHA, probiotics and cod liver oil.

Certain botanicals and so-called superfoods, such as goji berries, are also trending. Advocates of punk health drink goji berry tea to counteract the effects of alcohol consumption, for instance.

The punk health backlash

The trend has attracted criticism, however, particularly among practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, which is based on a proactive approach to health by maintaining an inner balance.

In an article published in English-language Chinese news outlet, The Global Times, Su Quanxin from the China Association of Chinese Medicine said: "Yangsheng is not about chasing trends. It's a scientific way of life and a positive attitude towards life. Methods [such as punk health] are like saying 'first kill me and then try to heal me,' which will do absolutely no good.”