It’s been a wild year for health and wellness. The booming sector consistently bleeds into more mainstream categories–to the point where traditional retailers depend on it to boost slowing sales. Sephora, for example, is now flush with luxe dental floss, natural deodorants, and $38 collagen-enhancing beauty supplements.
But at the same time, vigilant consumers and watchdog groups are fighting back against the fakes and exaggerated claims. Earlier this fall, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop settled a lawsuit brought by 10 California counties that argued its product advertisements lacked reliable scientific evidence. (Some customers were able to seek refunds for those jade vaginal eggs.)
Then, in a rather controversial move, Facebook deleted dozens of pages dedicated to fringe or holistic medicine in an apparent crackdown on pseudoscience. Others, such as myself, rallied against the normalization of influencers who peddle snake-oil antics, such as Mehmet Oz, who was recently appointed to the President Donald Trump’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition.
Despite these controversies, the health and wellness industry witnessed amazing innovations that are spreading the gospel of self-care and affordable health solutions to more audiences. That’s a good thing. In the coming years, it is sure to be associated with more than yoga and green juice.
Read on for the more promising trends as we head into 2019. And keep track of ongoing trends by signing up for the Well to Do newsletter.
Taking on awkward issues
“It’s kind of a taboo topic,” says Will Herlands, cofounder of Willow, a direct-to-consumer underwear brand for those living with incontinence. “Understandably, people don’t like to talk about peeing in your pants.”
Bladder leakage affects 30%-40% of older women, and 15% of men. That’s about 25 million people in the U.S. and 400 million worldwide. And those with it have little to turn to beyond what amounts to bulky, unflattering adult diapers. Willow offers a more discreet and fashion-forward approach, delivered right to one’s door.
It joins a host of new startups aiming to refashion once-whispered-about health issues: Hims and Hers tackles male erectile dysfunction and female hair loss; Blume is the first cohesive line of self-care products for tweens going through puberty; Queen V rebrands feminine hygiene care as cool, fun, and kitschy; Genneve is a telehealth service helping women going through menopause; while Joylux is a vaginal device company for the millions of women who are too embarrassed–or cash-strapped–to seek medical treatment.
Willow cofounder Will Herlands says Silicon Valley tends to focus on younger demographics (with sexier needs) and ignore audiences with just as much buying power. He wants that to change.
“We wanted to see how we can bring these types of [direct-to-consumer] services and products to people who are traditionally kind of left out of the (e-commerce) revolution,” says Herlands.
Home fitness revolution
The popularity of Peloton has ushered in competitors in the $14 billion home fitness equipment market. There are now smart rowing machines, weight lifting systems, boxing gloves, even jump ropes. Peloton, meanwhile, recently announced it was expanding into yoga, in addition to rolling out new treadmills.
So, will Americans soon ditch the gym for their living room?
A new report from user insights platform Alpha found that 54% of Americans who work out at least once a month are interested in buying an at-home fitness system. But there were a few issues that held them back, namely “no room in their home or apartment” (34%), high cost (24%), and preference for the live class environment (11%).
Prices will continue to drop as tech advances, more people buy, and the size issue is one the burgeoning industry is keeping in mind. A startup called Mirror reclaims living spaces with a $1,495 full-length connected device that comes alive with an LCD panel, stereo speakers, camera, and mic offering a range of one-on-one fitness classes. It’s essentially a virtual personal trainer the size of a yoga mat that turns back into a mirror when you’re done.
“Right now, this tech is very early in the adoption cycle, and it may never make sense for everyone,” explains Alpha cofounder Nis Frome, “but for early adopters, the enthusiasm is pretty next-level, so the tech looks promising.”
The Drybar effect
Acupuncture clinics exist in plenty of U.S. cities, but they aren’t always accessible or user-friendly. WTHN, a “Drybar of acupuncture,” intends to broaden the Eastern practice’s appeal by making it an affordably luxurious experience, much like a spa. That means studios with modern midcentury furniture, an online booking system, and chic vanity areas.
The startup joins other new companies lending the Drybar experience to niche sectors. Alchemy 43, for example, wants to take Botox and lip plumping out of the doctor’s office and into a nationwide chain of salons that does just anti-aging injections.
(“It’s just like getting your hair and nails done,” Alchemy 43 founder and CEO Nicci Levy told Fast Company.)
The affordable luxury experience has since been adapted for facials with Heyday, as well as massages with Squeeze. (The latter was actually founded by the team behind Drybar.) Then there’s the world’s first “face gym,” which blends fitness and beauty together for a new routine targeting the often-ignored facial muscles.
As the wellness industry continues to swell, expect it to take more cues from the beauty industry. For under-the-radar trends, it’s often a surefire way to woo consumers with disposable income.
The productive fertility market
As femtech takes root in Silicon Valley, one area has especially benefited: fertility care. There’s now an influx of women-led startups dedicated to ovulation tracking, sperm testing, benefits solutions, affordability, and more. Some are founded by doctors, others by women who personally struggled through the fertility process.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey found that 29% of women with fertility issues sought medical advice, and 27% had some variant of medical testing, though only 3% pursued assisted reproductive technology. That may be due to the astronomically high cost.
“This is one of the largest out-of-pocket health variances that millennials face right now,” says Claire Tomkins, cofounder of Future Family, a startup that guides women through the fertility journey.
Moving forward, the global market is expected to grow to $21 billion by 2020. And it’s not just for women–there are now more startups dedicated to men’s fertility, like Legacy, which analyzes and freezes sperm for aging males.
Women of color have long been underrepresented in wellness. For too long, many people associated yoga and meditation with white Lululemon-clad juice enthusiasts. Now leaders are creating innovative ways to bring self-care to new audiences. Until mainstream companies catch on, they’re leading the way for inclusivity.
Stacey Johnson and Jasmine Johnson, cofounders of Black Zen, a free online meditation guide and weekly podcast, modify their content to incorporate their audience’s daily struggles.
Britteny Floyd-Mayo, also known as Trap Yoga Bae, introduces newcomers to yoga by transforming it into a party atmosphere. Based in San Francisco, the events draw crowds in the hundreds.
South Los Angeles’s Green Tree Yoga is one of several organizations spreading health and wellness disciplines to underserved and underrepresented sectors.
Related: Wellness has a diversity issue
In Miami, Rina Jakubowicz established a bilingual yoga teacher training course for Hispanic women, which has since been accredited by Yoga Alliance. Amazingly, despite a large Hispanic population, there were barely any yoga classes in the city taught by Spanish speakers. Her first students included a cleaning and cooking crew that worked at her yoga studio employer. “It’s empowering. Now they can go out and teach,” says Jakubowicz.
Plant-based gets meatier
Impossible Foods (which produces the “bleeding” Impossible Burgers) will soon churn out 500,000 pounds of plant-based “meat” each month to satisfy demand from the 3,000-plus restaurants it supplies. Beyond Meat, meanwhile, recently opened a 26,000-square-foot food lab dedicated to re-creating everything from your favorite ballpark franks all the way to steak.
Today, plant-based sales account for 20% of food and beverage dollars spent by Americans, with beef alternatives making up 44% of that. In fact, a recent survey found that most Americans are even willing to give lab-grown meat a try.
It’s a new era for plant-based alternatives, and startups are thinking way beyond standard products (burgers), audiences (vegans), or accessibility (supermarket aisles). “Eerily convincing” faux eggs are already here, so don’t be surprised if you soon hear about the world’s first plant-based oyster shack—or a meatless steakhouse.
Good Catch, for example, released shelf-stable “tuna” made from lentils, chickpeas, and fava beans. The startup plans to deliver a range of products that reduce the environmental pressure brought about by overfishing. It joins similar companies such as Wild Type, which is attempting lab-grown salmon, and New Wave Foods, a shrimp alternative made from algae.
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Brick and mortar is also seeing a plant-based revolution. Monty’s Good Burger—which won over fans at music festivals like Coachella—just opened a permanent outpost in Los Angeles. Everything on the menu is vegan, including the vanilla milkshakes. On a sweltering summer afternoon, dozens of fans waited over an hour for the vegan creation dubbed the “In-N-Out of Impossible Burgers.”
“I don’t know when we’ll get into something like octopus, but our plan is to slowly but surely address as much [seafood] as we can,” Good Catch cofounder Chris Kerr told Fast Company. “We are in this for the long haul.”
Telehealth gets more inventive
Telehealth has been instrumental in reimagining health care–be it mental health or elder care–with video conferencing, remote patient monitoring, and consultations via mobile communication devices like your iPhone. But these services still suffer some stigma that they are “less than” traditional methods.
A recent survey found that nearly half of consumers would feel less comfortable during a telehealth visit versus receiving an in-person diagnosis–while two-thirds weren’t even sure telemedicine was covered by their insurer.
That’s changing, says Chris Steel, PA Consulting Group’s global healthcare lead, a healthcare industry veteran who specializes in telehealth programs. Steel says physicians and nurses are steadily adopting telehealth, which has been championed by younger consumers looking for efficient, cost-effective solutions. For patients in remote areas or for people suffering from chronic ailments or issues that prevent them from moving–like arthritis–telehealth can be a crucial option.
According to a recent medical survey by Kantar Media, 2 out of 5 physicians participate in telemedicine or plan to within the next year. For those who don’t, 80% feel that a percentage of their patients could be successfully diagnosed or treated via telemedicine.
While certain issues (like physician reimbursement and licensing) are still being ironed out, several startups lead the way in how telemedicine can make your life so much easier.
TytoCare, an at-home medical examination kit, allows parents to inspect their kids’ ears, nose, throat, lungs, and heart, and then video conference with a doctor–all from the comfort of home. Pediatric “visits” are now reduced to 10 minutes in length.
Roman, a telemedicine startup founded just last year, raised $88 million in series A funding to connect smokers looking to quit with licensed physicians.
Even dentistry is getting the at-home treatment: Direct-to-consumer startup Candid wants to make teeth straightening faster, easier, and more affordable with DIY teeth mold kits that are then analyzed by a network of orthodontists across the country.
“We are–relatively quickly–going to stop talking about telehealth as a separate category,” stresses Steel. “It’s just going to be the way it’s done. It will be used in conjunction with physicians and nurses as an essential part of the way we deliver healthcare.”
Helping us sleep
More than one-third of American adults do not get enough sleep on a regular basis, reports the CDC. In fact, it’s now a public health epidemic, with research linking a lack of shut-eye to a number of problems. Our cognitive functions are impaired, so we are more likely to overreact, and our emotional intelligence is degraded, so we are more likely to be irritable. There’s even research connecting sleep deprivation to mental health problems and depression.
As Arianna Huffington told Fast Company, sleep deprivation is “the new smoking.”
The last few years have seen several new tech products to help people sleep, including nighttime wearables, sleep trackers, smart pillows, and more. I even once spent the night with a sleep robot, which was more or less like a Teddy Ruxpin for insomniacs.
Now, the issue is spreading to more industries in the health and wellness space. In May, Equinox announced a new “sleep coach” program for its members, as well as a clinical research study demonstrating how sleep impacts performance. This upcoming February will see the launch of Nightfood’s new line of ice cream that complements the human sleep cycle. Nightfood is betting on sleep health becoming the next big functional food category.
Expect sleep to pop in even more categories as Americans further prioritize their time in bed.
Taking fitness recovery seriously
While the boutique fitness industry has mostly been relegated to yoga or sweat-inducing modalities, more are dedicated to recovery. ClassPass named it the fastest-growing trend last year, reporting a 16% rise in restorative and recovery classes booked.
StretchLab is one of many new fitness studios aiming to make instructor-led stretching the next big thing. At their airy locations, a “flexologist” pushes, pulls, and twists your legs and arms every which way.
Meanwhile, a crop of new biohacking and relaxation studios such as New York City’s ReCover help the physically and mentally stressed re-center themselves. Patrons strap into a leather lounge chair, snuggle with a weighted gravity blanket, and then drift off as an attendant administers New Agey brain wave techniques.
These companies are groomed to see more attendees if the nation’s stats continue on their current path: Over 79% of Americans report experiencing daily stress, mostly brought on by work and family obligations, according to Gallup. That will fuel entire industries dedicated to making people feel better–or just more relaxed, even for just an hour.
The wellness real estate boom
There is a lush “wellness community” in Georgia forestland that’s equal parts Pleasantville and Disneyland. It’s called Serenbe, and it’s a Utopian wonderland filled with farm-fresh food, roaming goats, and picturesque homes with wrap-around porches. There are unexpected features, like underground trash cans and secret treehouses for unaccompanied kids to discover and colonize. Barely anyone drives; they use their feet or, if anything, a golf cart to get around.
Despite its quirkier aspects, Serenbe is nowhere close to a cult. In fact, that’s a common complaint of residents: Why do people automatically think that a community of friendly neighbors, clean air, and healthy living must be some diabolical scheme? “It’s sad, actually,” noted one woman during my visit there.
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Where you build your home matters: A World Health Organization study found that 80% to 90% of our health outcomes are tied to where and how we live. The report looks at environmental pollution, air quality, and healthy foods, among other things.
As such, wellness communities are a rapidly growing, multibillion-dollar real estate trend. In North America alone, the market is worth $52.5 billion and is growing by 6.4% annually. The concept still has a way to go in terms of public perception and wider adoption, but in the coming decade, more people will consider them a way to combat preventable chronic diseases. Investors are taking notice while developers better customize the idea to suit different areas, like beach condos in Miami or apartment clusters in New York.
The Global Wellness Institute found that people who once opted for planned neighborhoods or leisure golf centers are veering into wellness communities. “This is the beginning of a whole wave,” Ophelia Yeung, senior research fellow at the Global Wellness Institute, told Fast Company. “There’s a big shift going on in the way consumers look at real estate.”
Reimagining primary care
Roughly 70% of diseases in the U.S. are chronic and lifestyle-driven, and nearly half of the population has one or more chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, or obesity.
Parsley Health thinks it can drastically reduce that number. Its mission is to foster a close, long-term, doctor-patient relationship where both parties are committed to addressing the underlying reasons for our health woes. For a monthly fee (usually $150), patients see their doctors for almost four hours each year–starting with a 75 minute session–allowing for a more comprehensive visit.
Most primary care visits, in comparison, last under 15 minutes. That ultimately accounts for why 76% of traditional physician visits result in a prescription for a drug, adding another $3.3 trillion spent nationally on healthcare per year.
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While Parsley doesn’t shy away from prescriptions or surgery (if necessary), the staff–doctors who specialize in internal and family medicine–prefer lifestyle changes through nutrition, exercise, supplements, and stress management techniques like meditation. (That’s right, you might get a prescription for more yoga.) After a year with Parsley Health, over 90% of members reported improvements to symptoms related to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, eczema, and insomnia.
Parsley is available in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and popular with women in their 30s and 40s. It’s not the first of its kind: Oak Street caters exclusively to adults on Medicare, while CareMore serves seniors, among others. But it’s refreshing to see more companies address the issues plaguing overwhelmed U.S. primary care practitioners.