Indeed, outside the United States, Activia/Actimel is often associated with weight loss. A friend of mine recently back from living in Moscow says Activia—along with tomato juice and cigarettes—comprises what she calls the "oligarch's wife's diet." In Europe, where Activia ads are ubiquitous, you won't see AARP cover model Jamie Lee Curtis as a pitchwoman but, rather, a parade of skinny twentysomethings in tight jeans and cinched bathrobes—it's no secret that younger women are looking to the yogurt to help them be more effective at the bar than in the bathroom.
Yoplait yogurt—another billion-dollar brand—has done its own research into yogurt and weight loss. The company suggests that the miracle food yields a lower body-mass index and has been selling Yoplait on a thinner-you premise in its ads, referring to nothing more "proven" than the fact that replacing actual Boston cream pie with Boston-cream-pie-flavored yogurt can result in a very confused seamstress taking in your chinos.
By comparison, even with tons of men's weight-loss products now on the market, one sees very few yogurt pitches to men. Jeremy Nicholson, who holds the chair in biological chemistry at Imperial College in London, says "there's no real reason for thinking that there is a big sex difference" in yogurt's health benefits and can see no discrepancy "other than possibly for marketing reasons." Dannon says it's never targeted anyone but women, going all the way back to that 1976 ad with the long-lived Georgians. Dannon's Michael Neuwirth says the company's strategy is motivated by the idea that women tend to do household grocery shopping. But following that logic, all food would be swathed in feminine mystique, and it's not.
And for all Activia's gynocentric marketing, I'm amazed my father and husband ever get near the stuff, which they do most every morning. But they eat Activia for the reason I do: not for its "regularis" properties but for its taste. After all, some of us actually choose what we eat not just to self-medicate, or to fit into a bridesmaid dress, or to indulge in a solitary escape. For some of us, countering our hunger with pleasure is promise enough. And you don't need a microbiologist or the FDA to explain creamy, vanilla satisfaction.