The basic science behind health and wellness is simple: eat better, eat less, move more, and sleep more. But simple definitely doesn’t mean easy. And so a nearly $1 trillion (and growing) industry has been built around the promise of making healthy, fit, and well easier.
Whether out of necessity or enlightenment, we’ve entered a time when “getting healthy” is more mainstream than ever. This exponential growth in health and wellness has already resulted in the growth of companies like Fitbit and Jawbone, movements like CrossFit and Zumba, and popular entertainment programs like “The Dr. Oz Show” and “The Biggest Loser.” But what’s next?
As new research surfaces and new trends emerge to fuel the industry, here are my predictions for what we’ll see within the next five years:
1. Gyms will become places people actually love. Thanks to the growing popularity of bodyweight exercises, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and the increasing success of spaces that emphasize simplicity and minimalist equipment such as Curves and CrossFit, new gym brands will launch that finally create a place people genuinely love to go — and a successful business model to boot. They’ll champion beautiful designs and embrace technology for a more seamless, connected environment.
2. Fitness boutiques will become a national success. The success and growth of spinning, barre, Bikram yoga, and other niche fitness studios are hard to deny. In the next three years, this phenomenon will cross over from big cities to just about everywhere.
3. Sugar will replace gluten as the new “health villain.” As adult-onset diabetes continues to grow at an unprecedented pace, fingers will be pointed at sugar more than ever before.
4. Meditation will become the new “yoga” and reach widespread acceptance. As one of the most scientifically validated practices there is, meditation will be taught by schools and embraced by employers. New brands championing one kind of meditation over another will become huge successes.
5. Health and fitness magazine brands will face real challenges for the first time. The audiences for publications such as Men’s Health Magazine and SELF Magazine will shrink as people increasingly tire of the same headlines screaming promises for “six-pack abs in six weeks” and “bikini-ready butts.”
6. “Big Food” will officially become the new “Big Tobacco.” Processed foods and snacks make up a huge part of people’s diets today, but not for much longer. We’ll continue to embrace whole foods like never before — and whole foods will become more readily accessible in most places.
7. There will be a healthy home-cooking renaissance. Mainstream media will make the connection between eating healthy and home cooking in a major way. Because so many people are too busy to shop and plan meals, made-to-cook delivery services such as Blue Apron and Plated will continue to grow, bringing attention to healthy recipes with accessible ingredients and convenient instructions.
8. Smarter recipes will create smarter cooks. The truth is that most “healthy recipes” online aren’t actually as healthy as they seem. New technology will parse recipes online and have a huge effect on Internet forums, revealing the nutritional information for all to see. Similarly, an increasing emphasis on eating less will force places like The Cheesecake Factory to rethink the “go-big-or-go-home” approach to American eating. Goodbye, pretzel-crusted chicken!
9. The power of the crowd will reveal what really works. Crowdsourced information will reveal the true story behind popular workouts and new diet fads faster than ever before. There’s never been more data collected from more people trying to get healthy, so “citizen science projects” like Lift’s Quantified Diet initiative will put health knowledge in consumers’ hands and potentially hurt an industry often built on misinformation.
10. New kinds of health and wellness influencers will emerge. Big-time celebrity trainers and doctors will be replaced by people who look and sound more like our friends. They’ll build big followings through less mainstream channels by championing moderate and practical ways of thinking about health, wellness, and mindfulness.
11. Real innovation in behavioral changes will occur offline. The successful consumer health companies of the future will ditch digital first and instead use the Internet as a complement to enable scale for programs in real life. Major social groups based around shared health activities and a new kind of health professional will both emerge.
12. Pharmacies, healthcare insurers, and retailers will become the biggest proponents of healthy living. And this move will be based on good business sense, not just goodwill.
13. Health will enter the political arena and become more heavily legislated than ever before. More politicians will jump on the Michael Bloomberg bandwagon and increasingly support legislation that punishes and taxes unhealthy foods to curb unhealthy activities. Health will become a hot-button issue for both major political parties.
14. The “Big Three” diet systems (Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, and Nutrisystem) will go bye-bye. One will be rebranded and completely overhauled, one will cease to exist, and one will be acquired for spare parts.
15. A “trainer” will finally mean something again. A new, legitimate, and nationally recognized certification system for trainers will launch with a big splash as the government moves to bring transparency to one of the blackest holes in health.
16. The Food and Drug Administration will start truly regulating dietary supplements. Come on, it’s time. Companies like Vitamin Shoppe, GNC, and others will get hit hard.
17. New consumer health brands will win the future. Two or three entirely new consumer-facing health brands will become $1 billion businesses by 2016.
18. Corporate wellness will change forever. A business book on building an organization that puts its employees’ health first will be a national bestseller and spawn a catchphrase that will profoundly affect the modern workplace. “Sleep In” instead of “Lean In,” maybe? Similarly, a major financial organization will go on record to emphasize and endorse seven hours of sleep for its employees. Other majors will follow suit.
19. Celebrities who endorse junk food will suffer. Consumer backlash (not just legal recourse) against celebrity endorsements — such as LeBron James’ campaign for Bubblicious and Peyton Manning’s ads for Papa John’s — will continue to grow and force change.
20. Fast food will finally give in. Fast food companies like McDonald’s will begin to offer as many healthy options as unhealthy ones.
21. Health data tracking will become ubiquitous, and trackers will become a commodity. The form factor for fitness data tracking won’t just be wristbands. Clothes, shoes, phones, and possibly even contact lenses (or implanted chips) will replace wristbands.
22. Someone will develop a device similar to the Healbe GoBe that can measure people’s caloric intake via body temperature.
23. A company will introduce a way to invest in other people’s weight loss like the stock market. Think “The Biggest Loser” meets Kickstarter. Unfortunately, this would probably be a terrible thing.
24. Disney will announce an animated feature with a plus-sized princess as the protagonist.
Some of the predictions above may seem hopeful more than realistic, and I get that. But I also very much believe we’re headed in that direction. There’s already an extraordinary shift happening in people’s thinking about health and how they prioritize it — and it’s only the beginning. That said, though I’m definitively convinced that the next five years will be amazing, these predictions won’t become realities without failures along the way. The only way we’ll end up with a healthier, happier world is by taking one innovative step after another.
Agree or disagree? What did I miss? What did I get wrong?
Derek Flanzraich is an entrepreneur on a mission to help the world think about health in a healthier way. He is the founder and CEO of Greatist, a media startup working to make healthy living cool.