By Jean-François Jacquet, CIO, KBL Luxembourg.

Advances in personal health and wellness, powered by digital technology, are reshaping how we live and work – and driving the growth of entirely new industries.

“For millions of people around the world, Apple Watch has helped them to stay connected, be more active and live a healthier day,” CEO Tim Cook boasted in September 2018 when unveiling the company’s fall product release.

The head of one of the world’s most valuable companies seems awfully focused on a gadget grouped in its smallest segment – the “other products” category – that collectively represents less than 7% of revenues. Does Cook see something in this digital timepiece that the rest of us are missing?

The Apple Watch was introduced in 2015, when the company launched its first entirely new product following the death of founder Steve Jobs. But the real story starts even earlier, somewhere in the mid-1970s.

That was when the world started getting fat. 

Since 1975, worldwide obesity has tripled. Today, 650 million adults are obese and another 1.8 billion are overweight – including 68% of adults in America, the fattest country in the OECD, a club of rich nations. The World Health Organization even has a special term for this international epidemic: “globesity.”

When Cook launched the first Apple Watch, however, its health benefits were mostly an afterthought. Times have changed. Now, when you look at the watch section of the company’s website, the message is loud and clear: “All new. For a better you.”

Like in so many other areas, Apple is not the pioneer of wearable medical devices, a market that’s expected to top $14 billion by 2022, up from $6 billion in 2017. In the medical smartwatch segment, Apple leads with 17% global market share, well ahead of FitBit, an activity tracker launched in 2007 that has 9.5% market share.

Ironically, the largest market for medical smartwatches is the United States, where 25% of adults now own at least one such device.

There are hosts of other niche health wearables, including those focused on managing asthma, back pain and ulcers. iSono Health, based in the US, has even introduced a “smart bra” that can assess early signs of breast cancer and share such data with one’s physician.  

This brave new world of high-tech health consciousness is being driven by consumer demand, especially among millennials. The 18-34 demographic has shown a willingness to spend on healthier lifestyles – a big part of the reason why Amazon spent $13.7 billion in 2017 to acquire Whole Foods, the organic grocer.

For millennials, fresh fruit juice has a lot more cachet than a bottle of Coke. Governments are now seeking to encourage such trends through their tax policies: California, for example, managed to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by nearly 10% following the introduction of a soda tax.

Beverage makers are taking notice. That’s why Coca-Cola, for example, has recently acquired smaller rivals specializing in vitamin water, coconut water and tea. Consumers generally react positively to such moves, as do investors – who increasingly monitor the environmental, social and governance metric of the companies they invest in.

The commercial impact of a generational shift in health consciousness will be enormous.

The principal industries that will benefit include sports, food & beverage, and the IT sector, from hardware to software, including data handling. Even more directly, pharmaceutical, healthcare and medtech players stand to benefit from so-called “datafication” of each individual’s well-being.

Publié le 24 janvier 2019