What do health experts see in our near future?
What’s in store for your health in the next five years? Doctors, authors, researchers and more weigh in
A sharp-eyed 20/20 look at healthcare changes by 2020
We asked some experts what they see ahead for our health — perhaps in the next year and then in five years.
Dr. Robert Lustig, pediatric endocrinologist at UC San Francisco and author of books including “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease”
Sometime [this] year, the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] is going to issue the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. These guidelines will differ significantly from those of the past. The [Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee] has now publicly voiced the opinion that low-fat wasn’t a good idea. People at the USDA are making phone calls to nutritionists, saying, “Is this low-carb fad real or full of rubbish?” The fact that they’re asking means that they’re backing away from their long-held views, which were never based in science but rather in politics. This will set a new nutritional directive into motion, which won’t affect health next year but will shortly thereafter.
About five years from now, insurance companies are going to look at the amount of money they are paying out in treatment for chronic diseases, and they will determine that prevention pays better than treatment. They’re already talking “wellness” (although they think that means “absence of illness,” which is very shortsighted). In five years, they’ll realize they can make more money from healthy clients than sick ones, and they will finally take the plunge.
Marion Nestle, nutrition activist, author and Paulette Goddard professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University
The healthiest folks in our society are those with money and education. So anything we can do to improve the economics and education of our low-income citizens will help a lot. I’m hoping for policies that will raise minimum wages for everyone but especially for farmworkers and restaurant workers so they can afford to take better care of themselves. This will make the rest of us healthier as well.
Lots of cities and states are looking for ways to change the food environment to make healthy choices the easy choices. My list includes restrictions on marketing junk foods and beverages to kids, getting vending machines out of schools, committed implementation of the new school nutrition standards, food and nutrition education in schools with gardens, whenever possible, and efforts to reform election campaign laws, overturn Citizens United and reform Wall Street’s relentless insistence on corporate growth. All of that might encourage congressional representatives to act on behalf of human, rather than corporate, health.
Dr. David Katz, founding director of the Yale Prevention Research Center
Lifestyle medicine will become a global movement. The initial formation of a global alliance of health experts working to convey a common message about the stunning potential of a shortlist of readily accessible, evidence-based lifestyle practices to add years to life and life to years. I predict (and am working to create) a future in which the public increasingly rejects fads, quick fixes, false promises and pixie dust — in favor of fundamental, actionable truths about dietary pattern, lifestyle practices and health. We have, and have long had, the knowledge we need to eradicate fully 80% of the total global burden of chronic disease. A coalition in support of using what we know about the theme of healthful living, rather than profit-driven competition among the variations on the theme (and many at odds with it entirely), could help turn long-neglected knowledge into the power of routine action.
Over the next five years, a global alliance will help convey to the global population how powerful and reliable our basic knowledge of lifestyle as medicine really is and will start to drown out the allure of quick fixes and false promises. The ‘fad diet’ will die, and people will live better. Within five years, the initial steps toward turning knowledge into power, and reducing chronic disease rates by 80%, will be underway and visible. There will still be miles to go — it will take more than five years to get all the way to the prize. But the game will be well and truly afoot!
Suze Yalof Schwartz, founder and chief meditation officer of Unplug Meditation in L.A.
Meditation is going mainstream. As a result of both scientific studies plus pop culture icons, such as Anderson Cooper’s recent segment on mindfulness on “60 Minutes,” it seems everywhere you look someone is talking about “the M word.” At Unplug, we are seeing people from 6 to 60 — first-graders to their school principals — looking to break away from their electronic devices for a mental timeout.
First, mindfulness in every school: My 4-year-old nephew Ethan is already learning mindfulness in preschool, so I see that becoming part of the curriculum. It is the ultimate tool to calm down the classrooms and teach the children to focus.
Second, corporate stress-management programs: Unplug is already going into companies and teaching meditation, but if companies want employees to be highly functional, they are going to have to teach them how to stop, take a breath and reset. I see companies creating mandatory stress-management programs, and meditation will be a part of that.
Jennifer Cohen, author of “Strong Is the New Skinny”
There’s been a real cultural shift in what is considered to be aspirational, or beautiful. It used to be that people wanted to be these skinny little waifs. But now they want to be toned. Really, truly healthy. Athletic. … They want to be superhero kind of girls. The starving to get skinny? That’s over.
In five years, everyone will have knowledge of the bacteria growing in their stomach. Knowing that will be considered as important as your basic vitals, as your heart. ... The wrong type of bacteria can amplify your fat storages. ... [For tests,] you’ll use a tiny lancet, get a tiny drop of blood, drop it in the mail, get results back in a couple of days. There’s no reason why you can’t do it on a regular basis. ‘How am I doing this week?’ The whole preventative maintenance thing becomes easy.
Gary Taubes, science writer, author of “Why We Get Fat” and a founder of the nonprofit Nutrition Science Initiative
What I see happening in the next year that will change our health is the continued focus in the public health community on sugars (sucrose and high fructose corn syrup, in particular) as the prime dietary suspects in the cause of obesity, diabetes and their related diseases. [I see] a continuing decrease in the amount of sugars that we consume and, more important, our children consume, particularly sugary beverages such as sodas and fruit juices.
Dr. Alessio Fasano, founder and director of the Center for Celiac Research at Massachusetts General Hospital
I think that some of these misconceptions will be much more clear about gluten a year from now so we understand who will benefit from a gluten-free diet and who will not. Gluten-free diets are used by people with fibromyalgia, autism, schizophrenia. Are these people really on the right track or not? We will have a much clearer idea if, when and how a gluten-free diet is good for you.
The pace of science is so fast that I really have a hard time giving you an answer [on a five-year prediction]. ... The ambition that will materialize in my field is the holy grail of primary prevention and personalized medicine in autoimmune disease. We embarked on a project that is super-ambitious. We are following 500 infants at risk for celiac disease from birth. And we want to understand where they take the wrong turn, from being healthy to changes that will predict autoimmune disease. It is called the Celiac Disease Genome Environmental Microbiome and Metabolic Study.
Mark Sisson, author of MarksDailyApple.com and creator of “The Primal Blueprint Diet.”
People will come to realize that they have the power to control their health with nutrition and fitness. We’re going to see the ability of the individual to literally self-diagnose and cure through low-tech strategies, by adjusting diet and lifestyle. When we educate the individual about how the body works, and they’re willing to undergo some adjustments in their way of eating and exercising, we see tremendous improvements in terms of weight loss, heart disease, getting off medication and more.