food and beverage

From Whole Grains to Human Analytics

A Collaborative Talk on Health and Wellness Innovation

August 3, 2015
by Sophie Spiers

On Thursday, 16 July, Continuum hosted SLICE OF HEALTH AND WELLNESS, the second installment of SLICE of INNOVATION. The topic of this collaborative talk centered on the role of food and technology in the health and wellness industries.

The event featured three guest speakers with expertise in varying aspects of consumer health and connected health: Giuliana Isolani, Country Business Manager for CPW, a partnership of Nestle & General Mills, Italia; Matteo Lai, CEO of EMPATICA, an affective computing company that employs human data analytics to develop wearable devices with medical quality sensing; as well as Continuum’s Digital Health Lead, Samantha Katz.

Samantha Katz kicked off the SLICE discussion with a giant photograph of…gelato! The inspiration for a recent SLICE workshop, gelato, Katz joked, has been a constant temptation throughout her trip in Italy. But as we all know, consuming sweets in excess is bad for our health.

(From her chair, Giuliana Isolani pointed to the “30% lower sugar” banner on her cereal box!)

It’s no secret that food and health are intimately related, and that maintaining a balance between the two is something many people find taxing and difficult. Who doesn’t love the idea of eating a quart of gelato while watching six hours of Netflix?

Unfortunately, eating too much and exercising too little have led to rising obesity rates. Katz, however, sees a silver lining to this health epidemic: people are becoming more in tune than ever before with their bodies and health, seeking out new tools to track their behaviors in an effort to live healthier lives.

When it comes to healthcare, people are more demanding than ever. Not demanding in a nagging, “Mom, I want gelato NOW!” kind of way, but in a savvy, informed one. They want insight into and control over their healthcare. In a world where we have resources at the tips of our fingers—quite literally—isn’t it natural that we’d expect healthcare to work for and with us, and not the other way around?

Katz calls this trend Power to the Patients. It’s one of two central pillars she outlined in her SLICE talk. Consumers, she explained, want greater visibility into their personal medical records and the costs of their healthcare. They also want better customer experiences; similar to those they have in other industries. If restaurant chains are working round-the-clock to improve their customer experiences, shouldn’t healthcare providers hop on the wagon?

Inclusive healthcare is largely about giving people more access to tools that assimilate into their everyday lives. In a second trend that Katz calls the Clinical/Consumer Blur, traditionally clinical devices are moving into the hands of consumers. Personal-use medical devices are cutting back on complex regulatory processes that can discourage patients, and are empowering people to better control their health.

MatteoSLICE embrace

We saw one example of the Clinical/Consumer Blur in Matteo Lai’s presentation. At EMPATICA, Lai works to create beautiful devices that people will actually wear, to track a health condition that can be life-or-death. EMPATICA’s device is designed for children and adults with epilepsy. The wearable, as sleek and sophisticated as any other leading wrist-worn fitness tracker, monitors daily activities and analyzes human analytics data, so as to forecast oncoming seizure events. With this predictive capacity, the device could decrease the occurrence of the harmful, and sometimes deadly, seizures that affect 65 million people globally. Wearable technology like this puts control back into the hands—or rather, onto the wrists—of the consumer.

Even in an increasingly digital world, however, digital health tools can only go so far. As Katz explained, behavior changes get to the root cause of health issues.

GiulianaSLICE fitness

Isolani’s presentation focused on the ways in which their Fitness cereal brand is designed to support its consumers in adopting healthy behaviors beyond the breakfast table. The Fitness brand commits itself to understanding its target consumer—women ages twenty to fifty—and providing her with a product that empowers her to live in a holistically healthy way. As Isolani pointed out, women’s health is no longer about staying thin, but about balancing food, activity, and health monitoring for an all-around healthy lifestyle. From advertising Samba dance on its packaging, to launching a Global Breast Cancer Prevention campaign, Fitness cereal is encouraging women to integrate holistic health into their everyday behaviors and routines.

So, back to gelato. Can we eat it? Should we eat it? How much of it can we eat?

Health is individual, and innovations in this space can take a multitude of forms. Designing for health and wellness—whether it’s a device, a food product, or a service—requires an understanding of the values that underpin it.

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