So far during this Healthy Futures series we have explored the reactive side of healthcare. In this article, we assess the equally critical area of preventative health – specifically wellness and how it supports the pursuit of our investment theme Healthy Futures.
There is perhaps nothing quite like a global pandemic to make one think about their own health. Indeed the time many of us have spent confined at home, has left us evaluating what life was like before, aspects of our lives that we miss and possibly aspects we do not wish to return. It has also elevated wellness on our agenda, we appreciate more than ever that to truly be in good health, involves a combination of practices for good physical and mental health.
Framing the obesity crisis
A very high profile case of severe COVID-19 was the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. At 56 years old he didn’t fit the typical demographic of a high risk individual. Whilst there is still much we are yet to understand as to why certain individuals may suffer severe COVID-19 symptoms, Boris believed his weight played a factor. Subsequent studies have shown obesity can increase chance of death from COVID-19 by up to 90%.1
For some time developed nations have been facing an obesity epidemic, as poor nutrition rises and physical activity drop. This is predicted to grow further - in the US nearly half of the population is expected to be classified as obese by 2030. But this is also a growing challenge for countries with emerging wealth, the increased access to high sugar/salt food and drink is fuelling an obesity crisis; for example nearly 1/3 of Mexico’s population is already obese.
The increased risk from obesity isn’t just limited to COVID-19 severity. It is the fifth leading cause of death globally, killing 2.8 million as a result of secondary conditions which include heart disease and cancer. A disease with the strongest link to obesity is Type 2 diabetes, where obesity is believed to account for 80-85% of the risk of developing the condition. With the projected rising obesity rates globally, diabetes prevalence is expected to follow and globally 1 in 10 people are predicted to have Type 2 diabetes by 2045.2
Making food more nutritious
One of the contributing trends is the increasing dislocation between food and nutrition, where hunger has declined but malnutrition is increasing. WHO calculates 65% of the world’s population live in countries where obesity kills more than being underweight. This is where nutrition companies have a vital role in making food more nutritious through vitamin additives, prebiotics for healthier gut, lower calorie sugar alternatives, fibre additives etc.
The WHO calculates that 65% of the world's population live in countries where obesity kills more than being underweight.
DSM, an Amity International Fund holding, is a leading Dutch nutrition and sustainable living company. They are the world’s largest manufacturer of vitamin D for additives to food or as dietary supplements, which has been shown to reduce COVID-19 infection and severity.3 Vitamins and supplements are crucial for health, they can aid metabolism and boost immune system function to help ward off infections. They also produce a sweetener called EVERSWEET, which is 300x sweeter than sugar, natural and calorie free. It also has the added benefit of being a more sustainable option too as the only stevia sweetener of its kind, made using natural fermentation techniques that are considerably less resource intensive.
Just 15 minutes of physical activity a day can add 3 years to your lifespan.4 Whilst the health benefits of exercise are well known, for so many, constraints of time, money and access present barriers to improving fitness. This year has presented us all new barriers for our fitness, with home working reducing our needs to leave the house and gym closures.
Adidas (Amity International Fund holding) has created #hometeam initiative, designed to keep people active during lockdown. This includes free virtual workouts that can be conducted from home including videos for kids to stay active and stress management. A UK study showed that children from lower socioeconomic background were more likely to be overweight5 which is partially attributable to lack of access to outdoor spaces and cost to participate. Adidas has several community initiatives to help tackle sports inequality including donating more than 1 million units of various sports clothing and equipment in 2019. Also through their Reebok brand is the BOKS program which seeks to bring access to fitness for children aged 5-12, with the goal to educate about healthy lifestyles at an early age, there are currently 5,500 schools under the BOKS program.6
Adidas has several community initiatives to help tackle sports inequality including donating more than 1 million units of various sports clothing and equipment in 2019.
Supporting Mental Health
Healthy lifestyles are not only beneficial for physical health but mental health also. This is an area that is frequently overlooked - its estimated that UK GDP could have been £25 billion higher were it not for mental health impacts to both people and business.7 Ieso Digital Health which is part of the IP Group portfolio (Amity International Fund holding), connects people with therapists online and also simplifies some of the initial processes. This has been a very useful service as people couldn’t get access to in-person therapy in addition with the pandemic creating a particularly challenging environment.
Wellness for Healthy Futures
We have examined in prior articles how healthcare systems are under enormous pressure from rising demand and associated costs. Perhaps one of the biggest cost saving savings would be from investment into healthier lifestyles, a key preventative tool. In the US where most Americans have one or more chronic disease related to poor diet, conforming to healthier diets could save up to $88 billion in the US8 from reduced diseases, which is coincidently the amount that Americans went into debt over healthcare costs.9
The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a wakeup call to the toll of unhealthy lifestyles and may just lead governments and populations into action. Not only is this important for healthy bodies, but healthy minds too which remains chronically underfunded. As responsible and sustainable investors we therefore see a long-term investment opportunity in these companies providing innovative solutions to support wellness and hence preventative health. Investing in these areas is imperative in helping us all to achieve the goal of Healthy Futures.