10 consumer trends driving the preventative wellness market
Angela Tyrrell, SVP, Longevity Leaders
It has become evident that the lifestyle choices we make throughout our lifespan impacts our health and wellbeing in later life. As Eric Verdin, CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Ageing points out, the key areas to be addressed if we are to increase our longevity are things like nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress. If we are to look at equality in how we age – a key remit of the UK Government’s Ageing Society Grand Challenge – these are things that can be improved regardless of an individual’s socioeconomic position. Information-distribution today is not without its major flaws, but it does have the advantage of being far-reaching and (should we be inclined to distribute in this way) reach across socioeconomic or cultural divides.
Ironically it is the voices and actions of today’s young people that are driving much of the cultural change needed to improve health and wellbeing in later life. I think of this movement as the preventative wellness or “wellgevity” market. That is, how our personal health and wellness management throughout our lives impacts our life expectancy and healthspan in later life. Here are ten consumer trends that are driving that movement:
1. Digital tracking tools
Whether it’s counting steps, logging calories, tracking ovulation or recording sleep patterns, we have never been more plugged in to what is happening in our bodies. The tiny supercomputers that we carry in our pockets or on our wrists have given us the ability to record, interpret and intercept patterns of behaviour that influence our health, hopefully for the better. While not without their problems – for example, they can open the door to unhealthy obsessive behaviours - digital tracking tools make basic health education and management available to a wider pool of people than those who can afford expensive private services.
2. Consumer biological testing
The big one is personalised DNA testing by the likes of Ancestory.com or 23andme. But other services are emerging to help consumers get a deeper understanding of their bodies at a biological level, like Chronomics’ epigenetics testing and uBiome’s (admittedly failed) microbiome testing. As with digital tracking tools, consumer testing services offer the promise of more effective health management throughout our lives. They are however, more expensive and hence prohibitive to some socioeconomic groups. The business model for effective, informed intervention is also still to be cracked.
In the face of readily accessible tracking and testing, a demand for personalised solutions is to be expected. We are living in the age of ”Me Me Me” where “my truth” can be readily exchanged for “the” truth and anybody can star in their own music video, their own digital story or even their own printed picture book. It makes sense that we’re also demanding personalisation of our health management tools. While the cynic in me wants to roll my eyes, the pragmatist acknowledges that anything driving consumers to take more ownership of their own lifelong health management is a good thing. Personalised nutrition is one of the most interesting trends disrupting the food industry and has the potential to completely change how we manage our health at an individual level. Likewise personalisation of skincare could have an important role to play in mitigating skin ageing.
4. Responding to climate change
Arguably the most iconic trend of our time will be the acknowledgement of climate change and the demand for action. At the level of individual health, this could have rather a positive impact. Consumers are becoming more mindful of how they travel (think of Greta Thunburg’s highly publicized sailboat hitchhike across the Atlantic last year). At a more local level this means driving less and turning to alternative means like walking, cycling or public transport, all resulting in higher activity levels or incidental exercise. Having climate change at the forefront of public consciousness is also influencing our dietary habits, making “plant-based” cool again and steering both consumers and food vendors to be more adventurous with fruit and vegetable intake.
5. Meat Alternatives
Red meat consumption has become synonymous with carbon emissions. This is driving a booming industry in alternative meat products made from plants, insects or even grown in laboratories. I would argue that the field is too young to claim (and validate with robust clinical studies) that these products have a positive impact on health but what is interesting is the impact they can have on changing consumer behaviour. As with the increasingly prevalence of plant-based diets, simply having the access to alternative meat products is encouraging consumers to examine their dietary habits more closely. As a result they will hopefully make sensible nutritional choices that have a positive impact on their long-term health.
6. Alcohol alternatives
This one is more clear-cut. The detrimental effects that high levels of alcohol consumption have on our long-term health prospects have been thoroughly validated. The trend towards alcohol- free alternative beverages enables us not only to consume less alcohol, but to re-examine our relationships with alcohol. Actively cutting back on alcohol consumption will have a proven effect on our long-term health and longevity.
7. Natural products
Another prominent consumer trend is the demand for reducing unnatural chemicals in everyday products. When we’re looking at health, food is the field that springs straight to mind. “Natural” can be a helpful marketing ploy but the research does back up the idea that reducing added preservatives or flavours like highly processed sugars and salt is beneficial to our long-term health. Another field being driven to change by this consumer trend is personal care and beauty. I’m less familiar with the research in this space but common sense suggests that the fewer petroleum products we put on our faces the better.
8. Mental health awareness
One of the most positive consumer trends to emerge in the past few years is a growing awareness of mental health. The accompanying destigmatisation is paving the way for diagnosis and proactive treatment of a range of diseases. Research is emerging to suggest that depression and other mental health conditions may result in an increased risk of dementia in later life. We don’t yet have the longitudinal data needed to determine whether increasing awareness and treatment of mental health conditions will result in reducing cognitive decline in later life. But one hopes...
9. Meditation and mindfulness
Meditation and mindfulness programmes – especially via digital channels such as apps or podcasts – have really gained momentum in recent years. There are a wealth of outcomes to choose from, whether you’re looking to reduce stress, improve sleep quality or breathing or accompany a physical activity such as yoga. What may once have been brushed aside as New Age or “hippy- dippy” is now mainstream and even encouraged, and beneficially so. Stress has a known negative effect on longevity and healthspan, and these mental practices offer an effective toolkit to counter stress.
10. Ethical leadership
In 2020 corporate and social responsibility at a business level has gone beyond a “nice-to-have” or fluffy PR exercise. It’s become a business- critical priority from board-level and throughout. In order to retain customers and to avoid being called out and publicly, catastrophically shamed, consumer businesses need to demonstrate ethical leadership and a strong CSR policy. This change could have long-term benefits for the health of their employees. Ethical leadership gives employees a sense of purpose. It should also ensure that staff wellbeing is front of mind: reducing stress-inducing practices, facilitating healthy lifestyle behaviour and minimising financial worries. Workplaces are absolutely key to preventative wellness practices, and finally the growing demand from consumers seems to be steering things in the right direction.
So, there we are, my top ten consumer trends that are driving the preventative wellness market. Of course, nature abhors a vacuum, so other consumer trends are emerging with the potential to undo all of that good work. For example, there is evidence to suggest that our increasing reliance on digital social tools is negatively impacting our ability to form personal relationships. These tools can also lead to increased levels of anxiety, negative thoughts and obsessive behaviours, all damaging to our long-term health and longevity.
This article is an extract from the Longevity Trends 2020 report.
The report captures Longevity Leaders' extensive research into this space, including the most important longevity trends of 2020 that businesses, policy makers, scientists and the general population need to be aware of.
You can download a free copy here