CONSUMER concerns about health and weight have caused the value of the slimming products market to more than double in the past three years.
Figures released by the Economist Intelligence Unit show the market was worth pounds 70m last year - almost 20 per cent up on 1992.
Sales of meal replacements such as Slim Fast have grown quickest, and there are more products which emphasise long-term rather than rapid weight loss, it says.
The report adds that sales of very low-calorie diets such as Cambridge Nutrition have declined drastically since their popularity peak in the late 1980s.
The EIU predicts that the meal replacement market will continue to grow, even though only 20 per cent of dieters use slimming products because they are thought to be expensive.
'The (diet) snack bar sector will grow fastest as they have the widest appeal to slimmers because of their convenience,' the report says. 'Snack bars appeal to people buying a lunchtime snack as well as to hard-core slimmers.'
The EIU also says the emphasis on health as opposed to weight-loss has encouraged more men to buy slimming products.
'Suppliers plan to hold on to existing customers as they get older, making it less of a young women's market. But despite an attempt at a more unisex image, the market will remain woman-dominated,' it said.
Men are not to blame for the female obsession with being slim, the feminist writer Susie Orbach said yesterday.
'Men play a small part, but it's basically a thing between women. You hear lots of women saying 'My partner actually likes me the way I am, but I want to be thinner',' Ms Orbach, the author of Fat Is A Feminist Issue, said.
'Little girls are taught to evaluate themselves by the shape of their body. They see their mum on a diet so they equate womanhood and growing up with the need to change and transform their bodies, and not to accept them like they naturally are,' she said.
Up to 40 per cent of women are on a diet at any one time, but it is estimated by doctors that only 10 per cent of them are medically overweight.