Digital Wellness Initiative Trends
TREND 1: Surge in online wellness services
As the physical world has been put on hold due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus, online wellness solutions have surged. From yoga classes to group fitness to one-on-one consultations, the wellness market has adjusted quickly to meet the demand. For instance, the meditation app Headspace experienced a 19-fold jump in users completing a calming exercise.[i] An element driving the demand for these services is the public’s desire to boost the immune system to contend with COVID-19.[ii] The desire for human connection is also driving demand, as loneliness has pervaded due to social distancing.[iii] It is predicted that this trend of online wellness services will continue post-COVID due to benefits of at-home servicing.1
[i] The Economist. With millions stuck at home, the online wellness industry is booming. Available at: https://www.economist.com/international/2020/04/04/with-millions-stuck-at-home-the-online-wellness-industry-is-booming (Accessed: 4/2020)
[ii] Harvard Medical School. How to boost your immune system. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system (Accessed: 4/2020)
[iii] Vox. Coronavirus will also cause a loneliness epidemic. Available at: https://www.vox.com/2020/3/12/21173938/coronavirus-covid-19-social-distancing-elderly-epidemic-isolation-quarantine (Accessed: 4/2020)
TREND 2: Major emphasis on sleep technologies
We are at a juncture of increasing sleep disruption reaching an epidemic scale. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 adults in the US does not get enough sleep, costing $411 billion annually due to productivity loss.[i],[ii] Consequently, sleep technologies are on the rise. From the smart mattress to nap pods…from sleep tonics to CBD (cannabidiol extracted from the hemp plant)…from sleep trackers to robots, the sleep industry is estimated to reach $585 billion by 2024.[iii] With growing awareness of personal health and individualistic care, people are focusing their attention and spending to ensure their wellbeing. Rapid technological advancements mean low-cost devices and wellness-focused investments by tech companies big and small—all indicating a rising trend of sleeping aid technologies in the year 2020.
[i] CDC. CDC Press Releases. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html (Accessed: 3/2020)
[ii]Fortune. Here’s What Lack Of Sleep Costs The U.S. Every Year. Available at: https://fortune.com/2016/11/30/sleep-productivity-rand-corp-411-billion/ (Accessed: 3/2020)
[iii] Valente, F., 2020. Global Survey Outlines The Next Wave Of Technology Disruptors. Frost & Sullivan. Available at: https://ww2.frost.com/news/press-releases/frost-sullivan-global-survey-outlines-the-next-wave-of-technology-disruptors/ (Accessed: 3/2020)
TREND 3: Optimizing our circadian rhythm
An increasing amount of attention has been paid to optimizing our circadian rhythm, which is an internal process that occurs naturally to regulate our sleep-wake cycle. Severe health consequences can arise from chronic disruptions to our circadian rhythm—from diabetes to heart disease to some cancers.[i] New technologies are entering the field to help increase awareness and regulate an individual’s circadian rhythms. For example, Timeshifter offers personalized jet-lag plans for travelers to optimize their circadian rhythm, providing an alternative to generic sleep solutions.7 This advanced technology also has implications for shift workers. Based on the importance of our internal sleep-wake cycle, we see this trend continuing throughout 2020 and beyond.
[i] Global Wellness Summit. Focus Shifts from Sleep to True Circadian Health. Available at: https://www.globalwellnesssummit.com/2020-global-wellness-trends/circadian-health/ (Accessed on 4/2020).
TREND 4: Finding ways of digital detoxing
In the age of omnipresent internet and addictive social media, we spend a lot of time on screens that affect our health and wellbeing. The extended use of digital devices has adverse impacts on physical, psychological and relationship health. There have been expert opinions claiming such screen time can be associated with reduced sleep quality, stress and migraine headaches.[i] A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association said that teens and young adults who frequently used digital media were more than twice as likely to develop symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).[ii] More screen time means less and less family and outdoor time, which can affect relationships too. With the increasing consensus of the adverse effects of too much digital technologies and screen time, there is a growing interest in digital detox as a way of balancing the wellbeing and use of technology. Digital detoxing refers to restricting the use of digital devices, for example, limiting the use of social media and engaging in real-life experiences or taking a break from digital devices and enjoying leisure. The concept of forest bathing—immersing yourself in natural settings—can assist with digital detoxing, especially when cellphone reception is unavailable. Likewise, cultivating social norms among friends and family can also be effective, such as turning off cell phones at the dinner table. As technology pervades our lives, balancing our relationship with it will remain a trend for years to come.
[i] Everyday Health. How Technology Is Hurting Your Eyes. Available at: https://www.everydayhealth.com/healthy-living/how-technology-is-hurting-your-eyes.aspxhttps://www.everydayhealth.com/healthy-living/how-technology-is-hurting-your-eyes.aspx (Accessed: 3/2020)
[ii] Newport Academy. Why We All Need A Digital Detox | Newport Academy. Available at: https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/restoring-families/digital-detox/ (Accessed: 3/2020)
TREND 5: Advances in DNA testing inform lifestyle choices
As technology and science progress, solutions become more affordable and easier to use. Such is the case with DNA testing.[i] DNA testing has gained popularity due to its ability to detect predispositions to illnesses such as heart disease, cancer or neural dysfunction. Advancements in DNA sequencing technologies have reduced costs and enabled direct-to-consumer offerings.[ii] As a result, people are better informed and can make lifestyle choices that suit their DNA characteristics. However, given the complexity of such DNA testing results and their implication to one’s health, it remains advisable for consumers to work with health professionals to decipher the results and implement an appropriate lifestyle plan.[iii]
[i] World Economic Forum. Health and Healthcare in the Fourth Industrial Revolution Global Future Council on the Future of Health and Healthcare 2016-2018 report. Available at: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF__Shaping_the_Future_of_Health_Council_Report.pdf (Accessed: 3/2020)
[ii] Vogenberg, F. R., Isaacson Barash, C., & Pursel, M. (2010). Personalized medicine: part 1: evolution and development into theranostics. P & T : a peer-reviewed journal for formulary management, 35(10), 560–576.
[iii] US National Institute of Health. What do the results of direct-to-consumer genetic testing mean? Available at: https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/dtcgenetictesting/dtcresults (Accessed: 4/2020)
TREND 1: Consumers demand greater transparency and privacy.
Over the last decade, consumers were smitten with all of the new devices and services that came with Internet 2.0. So smitten, in fact, that we were quite willing to give up significant amounts of privacy and allow a certain amount of power and control to come from corporate advertisers. It seemed like a fair trade-off because consumers have been getting amazing new platforms and services from the web and the corporate advertising model seemed the only way to get it. But recent Facebook scandals have sent people looking for new and better alternatives. (The hashtag “#deletefacebook” and the search term “how to delete Facebook” have been trending up over the last couple of years.) And new subscription-based services are emerging that offer greater transparency, greater privacy, and more freedom from corporate advertisers, which will shape consumers’ expectations into the future. Examples include the subscription-based Medium blog, which has been growing exponentially since it launched, because the algorithm is designed to deliver quality content to users rather than to drive eyeballs to advertisers. One of the fastest growing search engines is Duck Duck Go, which promises not to monitor users’ data. And the new social media platform Vero has been growing on the promise of a more transparent algorithm based on delivering quality to paid subscribers as opposed to corporate advertising.
TREND 2: Technology companies hop on the wellbeing bandwagon.
The tech companies are very aware that there is a rising backlash against technology and that consumers are seeking better solutions that are more aligned with their personal wellbeing goals. Both Google and Facebook have launched new “Digital Wellbeing” tools to help their users establish boundaries and monitors for their own technology use. Consumers are right to be skeptical, as this is a little bit like asking the fox to guard the henhouse, and the tech companies’ ultimate goals have to continue to be toward their corporate advertising overlords. But the technology companies realize that, even in order to pursue their own self-interests (and those of their advertisers), they need to ensure that they are not so disruptive to their users’ wellbeing that they begin to lose market share. Expect more tech companies to hire Digital Wellness experts to help them develop and enhance their products with this in mind.
TREND 3: The rise of “Tech Ethics.”
Technology companies will not only need wellness experts, but they will also need experts on ethics. We’ve spent most of the last century thinking about what we could do with technology. The answer seems to be clear: almost anything. Now the question is what we should do with technology. Should we modify the DNA of our children? Should we implant technology into our bodies to give ourselves superhuman capabilities? Should an automated vehicle drive off a cliff, killing its passengers, to save the life of a child crossing the road? We will need to find answers to all of these questions. People used to be laughed at for studying ethics in a liberal arts college. In the future, expect experts on ethics to be revered as the modern sages of society.
TREND 4: People seek wellness on technology.
In spite of the backlash against technology, technology will continue to rise, and technology as a tool to deliver wellness will continue to grow. People will increasingly use devices to manage their personal wellbeing, including monitoring their diet, sleep or emotional health; managing their exercise programs; or developing a meditation practice. From a medical standpoint, both patients and physicians will turn to technology as their first point of reference. Healthcare will be increasingly delivered via technology, and diagnosis will be increasingly performed by artificial intelligence.
TREND 5: Mindfulness goes mainstream.
Mindfulness meditation today is where yoga was 30 years ago. It is still a fringe activity for a small niche of holistic wellness devotees. But meditation will follow the same meteoric rise in popularity that yoga has experienced because mindfulness is the best approach we have for understanding the algorithms of our mind. As technology helps the world become much more algorithmic, understanding the bugs in our own mental code will be increasingly important. One thing that has slowed the growth of mindfulness is that learning and practicing meditation is actually quite challenging. Ironically, technology will help to solve this problem with apps and programs, such as the popular Headspace or the new Waking Up apps that help people develop their mindfulness skills in a more engaging way.
The Global Wellness Institute serves as an umbrella organization for numerous Initiatives, that are independently chaired and run. The resources, editorial, research and opinions presented by the Initiatives do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Global Wellness Institute.