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mapping the future of health care

by Diane Lofshult on Oct 01, 2004

Food for Thought

What will health care look like in the near future? What impact will the Baby Boomer generation have on tomorrow’s medical policies and priorities? Where will the business opportunities be for fitness experts in this changing healthcare landscape?

Health experts provided some of the answers to these questions recently in New York City at a business conference called “Sex, Drugs & Weight Control: How Generational Values & Appetites Will Transform the Marketplace,” sponsored by North Castle Partners, an investment firm that focuses on healthy living. The 1-day educational seminar featured a panel of distinguished speakers, including Ken Dychtwald, PhD, David A. Kessler, MD, Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH, and Andrew Weil, MD. Here are some of the highlights the panel shared with attendees:

Not Your Parents’ Medicine. Dychtwald, psychologist, gerontologist and author of Age Wave, explored the impact the Baby Boomer generation has had—and continues to have—on society. “Aging as we know it will not be the same,” explained Dychtwald. “Unlike their parents, Baby Boomers will be growing old with today’s medicine and advanced technology.” By questioning their doctors and demanding more information, Dychtwald says, Boomers have become consumers and not simply patients. Here’s a glimpse at what else he predicts the future holds:

  • therapeutic cloning (the cloning of a person’s organs for future use)

  • stem cell technology (which promises to be a hot topic in the upcoming U.S. presidential election)

  • nanotechnology (the use of micro instruments and robots that fit inside a blood vessel during surgery or when drugs are administered)

  • enhancement technology (cosmetic surgery to make someone run faster or perform better)

Personalized Treatment. According to Kessler, dean of the University of California, San Francisco, Medical School and former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the future of medicine lies in individualized medical treatment. New generational drugs will provide targeted therapy, while advanced treatments will focus on replacing damaged DNA and inhibiting malignant cell growth. Advances like this may mean that heart disease and cancer could someday become manageable diseases.

Customized Eating Plans. Peeke, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and author of Fight Fat After Forty, discussed the relationship between obesity and diabetes. Peeke said that by 2005, obesity will become the leading cause of death in the U.S. and if the obesity trends continue at current rates, 1 in 3 children born in 2000 will ultimately be diagnosed as diabetic. In fact, there is such a high correlation between increased belly fat and type 2 diabetes that experts now call the condition “diabesity®,” a term coined by Barbara J. Moore, PhD, president of Shape Up America. Peeke believes that health and fitness experts should focus their weight loss interventions on healthy lifestyle choices and customized eating plans, since individuals are different.

Alternative Medicine. Weil, director of the integrative medicine program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and author of seven books, including Spontaneous Healing, shared his insights on the future of integrative and alternative medicine, a movement he thinks was purely consumer driven and generally ignored by doctors. This is starting to change, Weil explained, as physicians begin to acknowledge the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of different types of alternative medicine. He predicts that as more controlled studies demonstrate that alternative treatments work and as more corporations realize cost savings from integrative medicine, medicine will embrace these types of therapies. Weil also believes that insurance companies should charge lower premiums to people who adopt healthy lifestyles.

The Future of Fitness. Although technology offers much promise, it can go only so far in ameliorating all health problems. “Today’s children will be the first generation to be less healthy than their parents,” Peeke predicted.

“Many people look at technology as an easy answer,” said Brent Knudsen, a managing director of North Castle Partners. “Technology can focus on treating a specific disease, but the dominant issue is people doing the right thing. Eating the right foods and getting a reasonable amount of exercise are the right things to do.”

Peeke observed that doctors, fitness professionals and nutritionists need to work together to help clients achieve their health goals. “The trainer takes on a much expanded role in this partnership,” she said. “Clients will be more complex. It’s no longer about just dropping 20 pounds to be pretty.” Peeke believes a team approach is necessary to combat obesity.

Toward that end, Peeke recommended that fitness professionals introduce themselves to local doctors and establish relationships with them. Most doctors don’t know any personal trainers to recommend to their patients, she said.

This conference report was written by Sarah Kruse, a former senior editor of IDEA Health & Fitness Source.

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About the Author

Diane Lofshult IDEA Author/Presenter

Diane Lofshult is an award-winning freelance author who specializes in nutrition and weight management topics. She is the founder of In Other Words, an editorial consulting firm based in Solana Beach,...