It’s widely acknowledged our health is a combination of genetics, diet/exercise and the exposure to toxins. This post focuses on the proliferation of the latter and identifies a number of simple steps to help reduce exposure.


A 2014 study by IHS Automotive concluded there are 253 million cars on the road in the United States with an average age of 11.4 years (1). This is a whopping 532% increase on the 40 million cars in 1950. Perhaps more alarmingly the emissions from this increase has brought a similar increase in what the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has classified as known human carcinogens such as Benzene, in addition to probable human carcinogens formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and 1,3-butadiene (2). The EPA goes as far as to estimate that mobile (car, truck, and bus) sources of air toxics account for as much as half of all cancers attributed to outdoor sources of air toxics.


On October 26th 2015 the World Health Organization (WHO) classified processed meat as a carcinogen (3) putting it in the same category as plutonium, arsenic and… exhaust emissions. Hopefully a hot dog is not as dangerous as plutonium 😉 but it is in the same category nonetheless. To put this in perspective, the WHO uses the International Agency for Research for Cancer (IARC) classification system which has 4 categories:

  • Group 1 – Carcinogenic to humans
  • Group 2a – Probably carcinogenic to humans
  • Group 2b – Possibly carcinogenic to humans
  • Group 3 – Unclassifiable as to the carcinogenicity in humans
  • Group 4 – Probably not carcinogenic to humans

Most agents, ~88% to date of those tested, are listed in Group 2 and 3 namely – possible, probable or unknown risk. It is therefore a very BIG DEAL processed (and red) meat was classified as a known carcinogen given how hard it is to determine the impact on humans.


We literally cannot escape toxins as we go about our daily lives. In addition to the toxins in air from cars and industrial pollution, when you add all the processed foods we consume, the beauty products we apply, the OTC medicine we ingest (linked to dementia – 4) and the products made from plastics or harmful materials we come into contact with – it makes you wonder about the correlation with chronic diseases such as Alzheimers, Autism, Cardiovascular, Cancer, Diabetes, MS, Parkinson’s and Auto Immune Diseases like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis that are at or reaching epidemic states.

Number (in Millions) of Civilian, Noninstitutionalized Persons with Diagnosed Diabetes, United States, 1980–2011

A report published in the British Journal of Cancer by Cancer Research in the UK concluded the lifetime risk of cancer for people born after 1960 is >50% and stated that over half of people who are currently adults under the age of 65 years will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime (5). That’s incredibly shocking… 1 in 2 people in the UK will experience cancer in their lifetime.

Cancer is not the only epidemic. The first chart shows the number of people (in millions) diagnosed with diabetes in the US between 1980 and 2011. The number of has more than tripled (from 5.6 million to 20.9 million).

The second chart shows the number of Alzheimer disease patients in the United States is expected to more than triple over the next 50 years.

It should be apparent by now we’ve made a series of bad choices in our history which are having downstream effects on our health. News of them hit the headlines on almost daily basis – Heineken announced they are removing a coloring which has been linked to cancer in mice and rats (6). This same coloring is on the state of California list of known carcinogens. Fit Bit acknowledged its latest wrist band can cause a rash (7). Trips to the doctor and dentist can lead to direct injection of known toxins such as ethylmercury contained in thimerosal used as a preservative in vaccines (8), and elemental mercury which forms >50% of dental amalgam. Both these statements are surrounded by controversy and the fact the human body “should” be capable of eliminating these toxins – however it is overlooked that these substances are capable of causing both DNA alterations and epigenetic effects. While some people can detoxify these substances, others cannot – the important part to remember – we are all different.

Toxins are so ubiquitous they have become a part of our daily routine. As ridiculous as it sounds we literally start applying them to ourselves within minutes of waking up – do you take a shower in the morning? Check your shower gel and shampoo to see if they include parabens. Do you then apply antiperspirant? The active ingredient is typically aluminum. A pubmed article looked into the correlation between aluminium, antiperspirants and breast cancer based on the disproportionately high incidence of breast cancer in the upper outer quadrant of the breast found in clinical studies (9). Given aluminium is known to have a genotoxic profile it concluded,

“aluminium in the form of aluminium chloride or aluminium chlorhydrate can interfere with the function of oestrogen receptors of MCF7 human breast cancer cells both in terms of ligand binding and in terms of oestrogen-regulated reporter gene expression.”

A 2015 study from the University of Arizona (10), which analyzed sludge from treatment centers in Arizona and samples from across the country stored at the U.S. National Biosolids Repository, found significant metal accumulation in biosolids. Further evidence of the accumulation of toxins in the environment.

Low hanging fruit

Toxins are all around us and are seemingly unavoidable. Here are a few ideas to avoid some of the toxins around the home:

  1. Reduce sugar intake – In his book, “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease“, Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California at San Francisco, makes the case that sugar is almost single-handedly responsible for Americans’ excess weight and the illnesses that go with it. “Sugar is the biggest perpetrator of our current health crisis” he says, blaming it for not just obesity and diabetes but also for insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, stroke, even cancer. He has a point, it’s well documented that sugar causes inflammation and inflammation is the start of all disease. Here’s a tip – consider purveyors of candy/sweets the same as tobacco companies, if you classify them this way in as you go about your daily routine it’ll certainly make you think twice before picking up a bag of gummy bears.
  2. Drink pure water. We are 60% made of water and continually loose water through sweat and urine. Depending on who you talk to it is recommended to drink between 0.5 and 1 ounce per pound of body weight per day. It’s not just quantity however, it’s important to consider the quality of the water.  Tap water has been treated with over 300 chemicals, and the Environmental Working Group recommends anyone drinking tap water should use some form of carbon filtration to reduced exposures to trihalomethanes, haloacetic acids and other water treatment contaminants (11). Tip – consider a good, better, best strategy to give you options. Good – get a Brita filter – these use charcoal to bind toxins removing them from your water. Better – drink spring water. Best drink spring water from glass bottles.
  3. Caution with tattoos. The term tattoo itself means to puncture the skin. While some red tattoo inks are known for containing mercury, most inks include heavy metals (lead, antimony, beryllium, chromium, cobalt nickel and arsenic.) A lawsuit filed by the American Environmental Safety Institute against two manufacturers of tattoo ink was settled in 2005 resulting in the manufacturers including warning labels on their products in addition to requiring a poster be placed in a prominent position at all tattoo stores using the ink (12).
  4. Seek out products without BPA. BPA stands for bisphenol A. BPA is an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s. BPA is found in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. Polycarbonate plastics are often used in containers that store food and beverages, such as water bottles. Epoxy resins are used to coat the inside of metal products, such as food cans, bottle tops and water supply lines. Some research has shown that BPA can seep into food or beverages from containers that are made with BPA. Exposure to BPA is a concern because of possible health effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children (13).
  5. Deodorant. Aluminum is the active ingredient in most anti-perspirants. It is also linked to breast cancer. Consider natural alternatives such as the Crystal Body Deodorant stick made from 100% mineral salts which eliminate odor, or Tom’s of Maine natural lemongrass deodorant. But let’s be honest, we all know these don’t work very well. Fortunately a reader recommended making your own deodorant which works surprisingly well!
  6. Read. The. Labels. This counts not only for products you ingest but also the ones you come into close contact with – for example creams and gels you rub into your skin. Your skin absorbs these creams and it’s not long before they are circulating in your blood stream. Look out for natural ingredients and avoid anything with parabens – a widely used preservative.
  7. Household cleaners. A quick look under your sink and you’ll likely find numerous household cleaners that release toxic fumes hazardous to our health. Find safer alternatives – vinegar is just as effective as bleach or try natural products such as Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface Wipes.
  8. Reduce fish consumption. The average amount of mercury we get from breathing is 1 mcg/day. The typical American diet provides another 15-20 mcg/day. If one eats tuna or other large ocean fish daily…. an intake of 60-80 mcg/day is possible. For persons with normal metal metabolism (metallothionein, glutathione, etc), only 5% of ingested mercury gets into the bloodstream and less than 1% into the brain (14).

The following steps can help with the removal of toxins from the body:

  • Sauna. Skin is the largest organ on the body. 40 minutes sweating in a sauna is the equivalent of 24 hours of detoxification by the liver. Tip – head for the dry sauna as the steam room often contains chlorine from city water. Avoid throwing tap or pool water on the coals and keep plastics out the room to avoid them leaching toxins into the air.
  • Exercise. Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden discovered that physical activity purges the blood of a substance which accumulates during stress and can be harmful to the brain. Gregory Brewer proposed a theory which integrates the free radical theory of aging with the insulin signaling effects in aging. Brewer’s theory suggests “sedentary behavior associated with age triggers an oxidized redox shift and impaired mitochondrial function”. This mitochondrial impairment leads to more sedentary behaviour and accelerated aging (15).
  • Sleep. Get enough rest. A study in Norway reported in the British Medical Journal shows screen time before bed harms sleep in teenagers (16). Another study found the use of portable light-emitting devices immediately before bedtime has biological effects that may perpetuate sleep deficiency and disrupt circadian rhythms, both of which can have adverse impacts on performance, health, and safety (17). If you must use screens before bed try blue blocking glasses.

Your health is in your hands and it’s easier than ever to take control of it with products such as baseline from WellnessFX that provide a visual display of your blood markers, and over time an important historical view of your health. I suspect the next generation with their new mindset will look on with horror at how we made ourselves toxic in a similar way to how we now consider practices such as smoking on planes as ridiculous.

(1) IHS Automotive, 2014 Study
(2) Air Toxics from Motor Vehicles – Environmental Protection Agency
(3) IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat
(4) Dementia ‘linked’ to common over-the-counter drugs – BBC News
(5) Trends in the lifetime risk of developing cancer in Great Britain – British Journal of Cancer
(6) Newcastle Brown Ale – Recipe change amid US coloring concerns – BBC News
(7) Fitbit Acknowledges Latest Devices Are Causing Rashes – Tech Crunch
(8) Thimerosal in Flu Vaccine – CDC
(9) Aluminum, antiperspirants and breast cancer – J Inorg Biochem, Pubmed
(10) Characterization, Recovery Opportunities, and Valuation of Metals in Municipal Sludges from U.S. Wastewater Treatment Plants Nationwide – University of Arizona
(11) Water Treatment Contaminants: Forgotten toxins in American Water – Environmental Working Group
(12) AESI v. Huck Spaulding – LA-BC319440 – PDF
(13) What is BPA and what are the concerns about BPA? – Mayo Clinic
(14) Willam Walsh, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Walsh Research Institute
(15) Epigenetic oxidative redox shift (EORS) theory of aging unifies the free radical and insulin signaling theories – Gregory Brewer
(16) Sleep and use of electronic devices in adolescence, British Medical Journal
(17) Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness
(*) Photo credit bastyr.edu

The WellnessFX Experience – Customer Review

biohumanWhat happens when you mix a San Francisco based technology company (a.k.a a company which is organized around the consumer) and the world of healthcare (which arguably has lost sight of the consumer / patient over the years focusing on the what – the symptom/disease, as opposed to the why – the underlying cause)? The answer is functional medicine and WellnessFX is at the forefront of this paradigm shift. If you love data, technology and are interested in a personalized and systems based approach to your health; you’ll enjoy this review which shares some initial thoughts on WellnessFX and the customer experience.

Having decided to baseline my biomarkers with a full range of lab testing earlier this year, I was delighted to receive an email from WellnessFX on August 14th regarding the further expansion of their service to include Arizona, Colorado and Texas. For those not familiar with WellnessFX, the company offers biomarker testing and until recently this was only available in California. [Update 8th April 2013: WellnessFx is available in the following states – Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.]

The Process
After signing up at WellnessFX.com/packages, [update May 13th 2014: use this affiliate link for a coupon discount and free account set up], the next step is to select a package and schedule a blood draw. For Arizona (and perhaps the other non CA states – unverified) WellnessFX Baseline is the only package available at this time. After identifying a nearby draw site, you are redirected to the Lab partners domain to schedule the appointment – LabCorp is the draw partner in AZ and scheduling can all be done online with ease. After the blood draw, which requires a 12 hr fasting period and no exercise or alcohol for 24 hours prior, you’ll be notified by WellnessFX when your labs are ready.

With the lab results in, it’s time to select a doctor and schedule your consult. During the consultation your doctor runs through your labs and provides a number of recommendations which are also posted on your profile. Subsequent testing, recommended every 90 days, allows you to monitor progress and see trends over time.

10 Good Reasons To Like WellnessFX

  1. Lab partner. WellnessFX has partnered with LabCorp to expand service to more than 300 LabCorp locations in the states mentioned above. From booking the appointment online to walking out of the facility with a piece of cotton wool taped to my arm – the entire experience was flawless. LabCorp gets a 10/10 for the cleanliness of the facility, brightness of the waiting room, honoring of the appointment – literally zero wait time, friendliness of the staff and professionalism – didn’t even feel the needle. Overall an excellent experience and while this is one data point it appears WellnessFX chose well. In contrast, I was recently at another draw site for a different program and waited over 40 minutes despite having an appointment. The waiting room was dingy and the staff all seemed to hate their jobs. Worse still the phlebotomist forgot to draw 3 of the requested tubes and I was called back in.
  2. End-to-end service. Have you ever been on the phone with a call center and one of the customer service rep. stays on the line with you to make sure your reason for calling is addressed as you are bounced from dept. to department. It’s a good feeling to know someone cares about resolution rather than simply bumping you out the queue and onto someone else. This handholding / work to resolution approach is how my experience with WellnessFX went. While I didn’t talk with anyone from WellnessFX, they have successfully integrated the core parts of the process enabling you to go from online to offline (armed with lab request paperwork which you print out) and then to a phone with your doctor of choice. The integration is classy – the consultation call for example is integrated with your profile where a countdown clock informs you of time remaining.
  3. Speed. I had my blood drawn on a Friday morning and received notification of the results having been reviewed by a practitioner and being published online at noon on Monday. Obviously as the service grows in popularity we’ll be able to see if this level of service is scalable however that’s impressive and faster than any labs I’ve had back before.
  4. User interface. The data visualization is fantastic. Lab results are complex and often confusing without supporting information. The team have found a way to present the results in a simple format (either summary or table) with descriptions allowing you to understand both the ranges and the marker itself. This is a significant change from the typical, “yes everything is fine.” Now you can actually see for yourself. Having this information available 24x7x365 and instantly on your iPhone is of great value. You can share the results with your trainer, family, other doctors or nutritionist for example. I must have lab results in multiple doctors offices in several countries. While I do have some copies they are certainly not all in one place and often one has to ask the doctor for the information. Not anymore.
  5. Price. Baseline is sold at $199 and this includes cardiovascular health, inflammation, metabolic and hormone, liver & kidney health, nutrition & electrolytes. This is on average twice the predictive biomarker diagnostics a doctor will order for an annual physical, includes a consultation with a doctor in the program of your choice, and action plan and the hosting of your results. See below for a limited time promo code.
  6. Content in the mobile app. The iPhone app is a gateway to a wealth of information on supplements and conditions. It offers a new way to research and stay upto date with the latest on supplements and allows you to build out your own plan. It is a classic version 1.x app so don’t expect the world and assume for now there is a backlog of new functionality written up and pending prioritization.
  7. Variety in choice of practitioners. I was pleased to be able to select from a choice of practitioners when scheduling the consult. I had 4 options available complete with bio’s offering a range of specialization including homeopathic, cardiovascular and general practitioners.
  8. Notifications. These work well and are thought through for example: after scheduling blood draws, posting of lab results, confirmation of consultation, reminder prior to consultation etc. Each of these arrived via email and were informative. In addition to email notifications a banner is also appended to your home screen which notifies you of your consultation and includes the date, time, doctors name and dial in details are conveniently display on your profile screen. This attention to detail really helps the experience and prevents you from having to change apps or click around to find the required information.
  9. Dedicated conferencing line. A conferencing line is assigned for your consultation which both you and your doctor dial into. This line is also integrated with WellnessFX platform providing notifications of the event and also a timer enabling you to see how long you have left for the consultation.
  10. Systematic approach to medicine. I was happy to see recommendations for food sources to address any deficiencies over supplements for example – eat 2 brazil nuts per day to increase selenium. WellnessFX is part of a new wave of medicine which is focussed on optimizing wellness systematically as opposed to treating sickness and symptoms.

Some points to watch for:

  • Check your email! After my lab results were posted it was time to schedule the consultation. I spent several minutes trying to find a link to schedule the consultation. While I could review the doctors bio’s I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to schedule the appointment. Eventually I managed to do this by clicking on a link in the notification email (https://wwws.wellnessfx.com/consults/new). Including this prominently on the site would be useful.
  • Enter your demographic information with care, as once you have entered it there is no way to edit or add to this information. Demographic information includes basics such as age, gender, weight and height, vitals, ethnicity, conditions, family history and lifestyle / diet.
  • Prepare for the consultation. What issues are you having if any, what would you like to focus on? 15 minutes for the consultation seemed a bit rushed especially for the initial discussion where you need to establish a relationship and discuss history with your doctor. Scheduling the initial appointment for 25 minutes with a 5 min close and follow-up appointments at 20 minutes (15 minutes with 5 minutes for close) seems more appropriate.

My experience to date has been positive and this is a credit to the WellnessFX team. It’s exciting to think what the future holds for this service. Imagine if WellnessFX builds out it’s offering allowing customers to email in any lab report, which can be parsed and presented in the UI. For example, as a user I could collect all my historical or recent lab reports by trawling the file cabinet or contacting any doctor with whom I’ve had blood work done, scan and email them to labs@wellnessfx.com. The labs@ inbox would then match the message to my account (based on my email address), parse the data and add the results to my profile. This would provide me with a more complete profile of my health rather than starting it at the day I had my first lab work with WellnessFX. Obviously this type of decision will come down to strategic direction and priorities – in its favor, this idea positions the service as a goto resource for ones health profile and enables the company to grow the capture more of the market with an entry level read-only type service in markets while the grunt work of building the core service of doctors and labs is executed in the background.

In conclusion it’s amazing to think this is a business founded April 2010 and a platform launched in late 2011, especially given the multiple providers and touch points. In the end it all boils down to trust and simplicity:

  • Trust. The focus on quality in partner selection be it doctors or labs is clear and well executed. There are some areas to address for example the mandatory opt-in to a recorded consultation for quality purposes should really be optional. Assuming this is solely for quality control purposes, participants can be incentivized to opt-in with a promo code offering a discount off future service, while the doctors can be kept in the dark as to whether the conversation is recorded or not. In addition given the sensitivity of the information collected, the company could do more to help users feel their data is protected from external as well as internal eyes and ears.
  • Simplicity. The time WellnessFX has invested to deliver an end-to-end service oriented around the consumer is clear. You can feel this in the experience – it’s integrated and buttoned down allowing it to execute with clinical precision. There is some work to do on the site in terms of the user experience and some discussions to have in terms of optimizing functionality that is used and killing that which is not – see examples at the end of this post.

If you are interested in trying WellnessFX for yourself and found this review helpful do take advantage of this referral link for a discount currently running – you’ll receive a $20 discount and I receive a small credit for the referral.

Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed this post please take a minute and hammer away on the social share buttons or feel free to comment – both are great ways for me to obtain feedback. As a customer I’m obviously keen to help advance the service. Below are a number of product opportunities identified when using the service which can hopefully be considered:

  1. Product information. The only product information I could find was on the baseline package. I knew others were available – there is even an option to upgrade under settings > account information however there is no information on what the upgrade includes or is for that matter. It was only after receiving the survey post consultation did I find the list of packages. Being interested in fitness I’d like to include an Amino Acid profile, for example, to better understand overall nutritional status. I assume the package types are location specific however it would still be good to know what’s available / potentially coming downstream.
  2. Consistency in the overall experience. The rich level of information available in the mobile app for researching supplements and conditions is not available via the desktop experience. The mobile app has some form of gaming system where you can score points for doing certain things, however it is not explained or available on the full site and quite frankly doesn’t make any sense to me. The mobile app doesn’t have any notifications – it would be handy to know for example when the doctor submits the recommendations post consultation. The mobile app occasionally logs out, not sure if this is time based or a bug – it would be good practice to include a forgot password link on the sign in page of the app. The mobile app didn’t know about my scheduled consultation and was therefore unable to provide any notifications.
  3. When signed in, clicking on the WellnessFX logo in the top left bounces you out of the secure area and onto the public homepage. This is annoying if you want to get back to your profile home screen.
  4. Doctor / patient confidentiality? I didn’t like the following message which was in the consultation confirmation email: “We would like to remind you that this call may be recorded for purposes of our user study.” I understand the reasoning behind it but as mentioned this should be my choice. In its current form it creates an unnecessary trust issue.
  5. In the same consultation confirmation email the following statement didn’t make any sense, “Please note that you will not be able to view your lab results until your consult has started.”
  6. Basic iCal integration would be helpful for example the ability to add a scheduled appointment to your calendar or set reminders for 30, 60 or 90 day reminders for follow up labs.

Browse all WellnessFX diagnostic packages.

Restaurant 2.0

As the Consumer Driven Health movement marches on delivering a growing number of exciting products and services aimed at helping us make informed decisions, new downstream opportunities present themselves. How will our dining-out experience change for example? What will the restaurant of the future look like? This post looks at these questions and presents 3 possible scenarios for Restaurant 2.0 – The Community Restaurant, The Nutritionist and The Curated Menu.

It’s time to admit we made a mistake

The USA Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a thought provoking animated map showing the percentage of adults with Body Mass Index (BMI) >30% by state from 1985 to 2010. Today, more than one third of adults are obese in the United States. England is not far behind with obesity rates at 26% according to the National Health Service report titled Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet: England 2012. By 2015 researchers predict 1 in 10 people worldwide will be obese. We really need to hold our hands up and admit we have taken a wrong turn at some point in the past 50 years and mostly played it wrong when it comes to nutrition. New studies challenging conventional thinking are being published, such as the recent Hunter-Gatherer Energetics and Obesity Study which suggests Westerners are growing obese through over-eating rather than having inactive lifestyles.

Have you ever found it strange how:

  • the produce section is often smaller than the pharmacy section in most supermarkets?
  • sugary drinks and foods loaded in saturated fats are available en mass.
  • it’s possible to justify eating cheese burgers, fries and soda everyday even when following the USDA food pyramid.
  • we buy stock in companies, which one could argue with little objection, turn profits from slowly killing us. Then, being the gracious creatures we are, we praise them for their success. Heck many of us even work at these companies.

Next time you are sitting in a restaurant look around – are the plates arriving at tables offering a balanced meal with correct portions of proteins, carbohydrates and healthy fats? Good restaurants do exist – take a look at those run by The Bon Appetite Management Company for example – however I’m willing to bet only a handful of restaurants in each city deliver a well balanced meal. In reality, much of what we consume is working against us not for us. We subject our bodies to daily abuse which over time leads to inflammation – now widely recognized as leading to illness. The one part we seem to have correct is the age old adage, “you are what you eat!”

Consumer driven health

At the forefront of the consumer driven health movement is San Francisco based startup, WellnessFX (featured last month in Reasons to be Cheerful). Led by former WebMD founder Jim Kean, his team is certainly no newbie to wellness with a number of its leadership having 2+ decades in the space. WellnessFX recognizes, “consumers and wellness practitioners are faced with a dizzying amount of health information as well as tens of thousands of diagnostic, nutritional and supplement product choices” and aims to provide tools to, “help people collect, organize, manage and interpret their data so that they can make decisions that drive actual results.”

Along with helping us make good result driven decisions in regard to our personal health, the downstream opportunity this new industry will drive is particularly exciting.

Think about it – as consumers it is our choice to eat what we eat. Armed with personalized nutritional plans we will be able to make better choices which help us to optimize our body. This consumer choice presents quite possibly the biggest opportunity for restaurateurs in our lifetime in terms of how we interact with restaurants.

Opportunity for restaurateurs

Restaurants have yet to scratch the surface when it comes to leveraging social media and mobile. Imagine how exciting it becomes when you add consumer driven health. This trifecta of social, mobile and consumer driven health has the potential to play a significant role in reshaping the traditional dining-out experience we know today.

Empowered with data to make smart decisions – consumers will make the choice. The choice to continue eating whatever is in-front of them or the choice to make decisions which support their path to wellness and good health. Just in the same way it is the consumers choice to decide on what they eat, it will also be the consumers choice to build an environment around them which supports their journey to wellness.

Information will drive change

The controversial Health Care Bill in the United States includes a requirement for restaurant chains to disclose nutritional information on menus, menu boards and in drive-throughs! Will you order a Venti Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha from Starbucks if you see its 560 calorie / 14 grams of fat label? Or the 1380 calorie / 104 grams of fat, 16g saturated fat Shrimp with Candied Walnuts from P.F. Changs? How about a more healthy option? A salad perhaps – but don’t forget to read the label – the P.F. Changs Thai Chicken Noodle salad weighs in at 870 calories with 37 grams of fat, 6g saturated fat and 1390mg of sodium? Eeek!

Just as the information about nutritional value will help consumers in their choice, the advances in consumer driven health will mean the consumer will have the right information. Information enabling them to make choices which are in their favor as opposed to flavor!

This is what presents an interesting opportunity for restaurants – quite possibly the biggest shake up the industry will see in our time.

Restaurant 2.0 – the restaurant of the future

What does a restaurant of the future look like? Below are three possible scenarios for Restaurant 2.0.

Scenario 1 – The Community Restaurant

By adopting a community model a restaurant will be able to provide significant support to its patrons with little additional cost. Other benefits include connecting with the local community and forming strong and lasting relationships. By offering a 30 day program a restaurant can guarantee repeat business in addition to social mentions – for example customers could sign up to eat a plant-based whole food diet for 30 days. Your name or photo could be added to a display covering an entire wall. The display is broken down into days – day 1 to day 30. Each day you check in via a phone app notifying the restaurant you are still on the diet allowing you to progress on the wall to the next day. For example, John is on day 2, Sally is on day 3.

Being part of the challenge you are encouraged to share a recipe with the restaurant. Chosen recipes are prepared by the restaurant chefs and stay on the menu for 1 week. Based on the percentage sales winning menu items live for another week – to be challenged by a new set of recipes. If a recipe maintains a 4 week winning streak it is moved onto the permanent menu for a given period. Each day you have access to the menu via your mobile device. The app. pushes out notifications of whats on the menu and any specials tonight at a time which suits you. On reaching the goal of 30 days you have the option to move across to the, “I did it” wall or carry on. If you carry on you join a leader board. At various stages you win free meals and other recognition.

There are many benefits for customers and the restaurant. Think how great it would be to have your dish on the menu in a restaurant. Would you gather all your friends and family and take them there that week? Would you share this news on Twitter, Facebook and other social channels such as Yelp!

The support, the camaraderie, the community is something you might never experience in a restaurant.

Scenario 2 – The Nutritionist (in place of the sommelier)

What if a restaurant was to be actively involved in nutrition – with either a qualified nutritionist onsite who is able to help each customer with their selection (the same way a sommelier would help select a bottle of wine) or training for staff to help with nutritional questions. As a customer you could ask to see the nutritionist, explain you are concerned about your blood pressure and be advised on the best options available to you.

Scenario 3 – Curated menus tailored to your wellness plan

Armed with your personal plan to Wellness from WellnessFX you are able to decide on which restaurants in your local vicinity are able to offer you meals which meet your goals. Restaurants with this capability could also work to cut through the complexity and offer menus which categorize common needs such as reduce inflammation, reduce blood pressure, protein boost for muscle recovery, lower cholesterol etc. Menus curated around wellness.


It’s impossible to tell at this stage what will happen however its exciting to think through the downstream effect of consumer driven wellness. Restauranteurs have a tremendous opportunity ahead of them to reinvent the dining out experience. By leveraging the growing research around overeating, social media, mobile and consumer driven wellness a restauranteur has a wealth of new options available to them. Options which can drive loyalty, brand and revenues.

As James Allen Dator, Professor and Director of the Hawaii Research Center for Future Studies states, “the future cannot be predicted, but alternative futures can and should be forecasted.”

Reasons To Be Cheerful

As the human race we have a track record of continually evolving and improving our environment and lifestyles. Whether it’s via natural selection, competition, advances or some other driver – we adapt, we change. New technologies for example, bring efficiencies and enable behavioral shifts simplifying and making possible what once was difficult, expensive or perhaps even unobtainable. Over the past decade we could point to hundreds of examples – kinetic energy systems in vehicles or mobile devices delivering a wealth of information being just two.

Looking ahead its possible to assume an unparalleled level of change is ahead of us. This change is also delivered through ongoing innovation yet perhaps more importantly this time around fueled by the combination of:

a.) how society is evolving to expect instant access and ease of use in products and services or in short – a growing distain for complexity, and

b.) our ability through emerging social discovery channels to by-pass many of the regulations which govern us today.

Take two traditionally ‘black box’ industries, such as the medical profession and financial services. These two industries are ripe for epic change over the next decade – and that’s exciting because… it impacts all of us.

1. Medical
Have you ever been frustrated at the treatment of individual conditions, “here take this course of xyz”, as opposed to your doctor taking a more systemic and preventative approach looking at signals your body is telling you in your biomarkers and taking time to understand why your body is reacting in the way it is?

Emerging biotech companies such as Scanadu and WellnessFX will help shift the dynamic between Dr. and patient. After all we have the ability to know more about ourselves than a stranger, and in a very short time we will be empowered with the data and information to have a comprehensive two-way discussion, where you will be able to have more input into any proposed treatment.

Today companies such as WellnessFX already enable you to optimize your ‘system’ providing diagnostics and insights into the state of your health. By offering biomarker testing, a technology platform enabling you to track your progress and access to forward thinking health professionals – as a customer you are quickly empowered with information to support or challenge a diagnosis. Just last week I personally ordered several tests through a similar provider and with the results now analyzed have been able to make changes to my diet in order to assist me in reaching my body composition goal. Add the promise of Scanadu which is working towards enabling self-diagnosis via mobile device using cloud services which will also return appointment times to see you health care provider or directions to the nearest emergency room as necessary – and as the tag line states we become, “the last generation to know so little about our health.”

It’s funny to think that for years we once kept log books showing the services performed on our vehicles, yet paid less attention to our health. This will change – we’ll know much more about ourselves and have this information readily at our fingertips as opposed to being under lock and key in various medical facilities. With our new found quest to optimize our systems, eating habits will shift radically. The downstream effects should not be underestimated, stores such as Whole Foods with their established supply chains will be well positioned compared to the many restaurants and supermarkets that built their operations and profits on food with low nutritional value. Supermarket floor plans will change radically yielding more space for healthier options.

2. Financial Services
As banks continue to build distain with their customers by charging fees and increasing borrowing rates, new entrants offering ease-of-use and a fee free approach will shake up the industry. Emerging players such as Simple have this very vision.

Another driving force of change will be mobile payments. As many financial industry players scramble to offer their versions of the mobile wallet, consumer centric companies such as Google and Apple challenge with better solutions. However mobile wallets and pre-paid card solutions remain clunky (see the Kangae post, ‘One Continuous Groove’), and its only a matter of time before this step is removed altogether and replaced with a single monthly invoice – perhaps as mobile operators such as AT&T, Virgin Mobile (leveraging Virgin Finance in UK and Australia) or Vodafone for example move into the credit space with their advanced billing systems and large customer base. It wouldn’t take much to win over customers – lower rates and an innovative rewards scheme. Card providers such as American Express and Visa suddenly have new and powerful competitors capable of taking out sizable portions of their business.

3. Social Discovery
Just as online search replaced spending hours in libraries looking up reference material, Social discovery is what threatens classic search as we know it today. It should come as no surprise therefore that Social discovery is what differentiates Google+ from Facebook (see Google+ hits the social sweet spot).

Community managers are no strangers to social discovery – they have after all been working in this space for many years. They understand the immediate value in connecting people with a shared interest and expertise in a topic; not to mention the numbers which count in your favor over a traditional social network such as Facebook or LinkedIn as – you don’t know more people than you know.

Through social discovery we are already following and connecting with people who interest us. Influencing and being influenced. With the emergence of the social enterprise following the good work of salesforce.com, departmental silos are being broken down as we speak and employees are being connected – as these internal deployments mature subsequent phases will include joining partner and customer networks. You can just imagine salesforce advertising, “Salesforce.com: 10m corporate silos smashed and counting.”

The modern work environment changes considerably as customers seek out the subject matter experts (who are already establishing their personal brands). Professional communities today such as stackoverflow.com, focus.com and toolbox.com have the ability to better understand the behavior of a companies employees than the company itself. How many questions they answer, and how many people they help for example. This shift opens many possibilities for innovation and evolution of the work environment. The benefits to an organization of this type of visibility are outstanding – the ability to share the knowledge, foster discussion organization wide and also not forgetting fringe benefits such as ousting the soon to be control freaks of yesteryear who built their careers hoarding information thinking ‘knowledge is power’.

It will be interesting to see how we evolve our governments and institutions which have traditionally controlled these aspects. Will it be a case of riding the wave and in doing so prompting further evolution with new business models, revenue streams, product and services, or perhaps there will be an attempt to yield control in some way – SOPA being a great example of a wake up call to governments.

This all makes for an interesting decade ahead and one we should be excited to be part of. What makes you excited to be a citizen of earth?

Photo credit: flickr/hm11kcom