The future of health and wellness: moving away from “one size fits all” to advice for “a sample of one”
The future of healthcare and wellness will offer tailor-made care and advice thanks to advancements in medicine, science and technology.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including certain cancers, heart and lung diseases and type 2 diabetes, are now responsible for close to 70% of all deaths around the world each year, according to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report. Of all those dying young (under age 70), 40% die from one of these chronic conditions; and in developing countries it’s 82%.
“Behaviour and lifestyle factors are driving this pandemic,” said Discovery Health CEO, Dr Jonathan Broomberg, today at the Vitality Summit in Illovo, Johannesburg. “Poor nutrition and insufficient activity are responsible for two million deaths each year; while high blood pressure contributes to 9.5 million deaths.”
Attendees at this annual summit that brings together pioneers and innovators in health and wellness, heard that risk factors for NCDs – smoking, lack of exercise and unhealthy diets – are modifiable, meaning disease is often preventable. Several key areas of development are providing potential future solutions to the NCD crisis:
- 1.Technology: “We are living through a period of lightning-speed change, with a host of functional devices for exercise, from the Apple watch to Fitbit, for example. Add to these the Internet and access to mobile devices, and what we have is the possibility of big data – lots of information to help us understand which kinds of health interventions and activities work for certain people and which don’t,” says Broomberg.
- 2.Behavioural science: More knowledge about how and why people respond to incentives, and what motivates them can elicit positive changes in entrenched behaviours. A great example is how Discovery Vitality members who engaged with the HealthyFood benefit (where they get cash back rewards for choosing healthy food items) have increased their healthy food purchases by 15% over a year. “Changing the way people buy is not easy – but small moves make big impacts,” says Broomberg. Similarly, those who engaged more with Vitality’s exercise benefits, have had lower healthcare costs and fewer hospitalisations than those who didn’t.
- 3.Advances in medicine: Since US geneticist Dr Craig Venter began sequencing the first human genome 15 years ago, genomic research has become of great interest in detecting and preventing NCDs and investigating other conditions, for example, autism. “We are heading towards a world where we can understand what’s happening in our bodies in a radical way and this can lead to personalised medication strategies. We will know how an individual will react to certain medicines; moving away from a world where we treat all patients the same,” says Broomberg. The same can be applied to prescribing nutritional plans and exercise programmes in future. Dr Venter adds: “Our aim is to increase the healthy lifespan, looking at all diseases, not only NCDs. Our goal by 2020 is to sequence all human genomes; for this we need large numbers and variety to cover a range of human diseases and ethnic diversity.”
“It’s an exciting world, where we are moving away from treatment and cure to prevention of disease and promotion of health,” said Broomberg. In the future we may, sooner than later, see strategies tailored for a sample of one; rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to healthcare and wellness.
Notes to the editor
The Discovery Vitality Summit being hosted in Illovo, Johannesburg, today, 06 August 2015, is an open platform that brings together pioneers and leading thinkers in sports science, high performance, fitness, nutrition, technology, health, wellness and psychology.
It creates shared knowledge around the latest global health and wellness developments, while encouraging debate and interaction amongst industry stakeholders.
DR JONATHAN BROOMBERG
CEO of Discovery Health and member of the Group Executive Committee. He is also a qualified medical doctor and has extensive experience as a strategy consultant and health economist.
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