How Wellness Changed In 2019

The Five Things You Need to Know About the Past Year That Was

The past year just blazed by for me. Maybe it was the pace of change at Medcan, where our digital transformation spanned the entire year as we fully deployed electronic medical records and a digital backend, including Workday and Salesforce—setting the stage for physical expansion in 2020 and beyond.

Meanwhile, the world of wellness changed as well. To gather ideas and analyze current trends, I threw questions to my Twitter followers and my connections on LinkedIn. I asked my contacts to suggest the ways that they thought wellness transformed in the past twelve months. I received some fascinating responses. Here are the five best.

Soaring popularity of plant-based products—“One that caught my attention this year, and I’m still forming my thoughts about, is ‘fake’ meats,” said the science writer Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience) when he replied to my tweet. “They’re an environmental win, but health maybe less obvious.”  For years, I’ve been limiting the amount of red meat I consume. Beef, chicken, pork—if I eat them, the serving is small, functioning as a complement to my overall meal. But 2019 was the year that plant-based eating transitioned from periphery diet for ethical or health reasons, to something akin to a mainstream trend. Witness Planta, chef David Lee’s Toronto chain, which replaced Nota Bene just a few blocks from Medcan’s building. But the biggest thing to hit plant-based eating in 2019 was mainstream fast food’s adoption of meatless burgers, sausages and fried “chicken.” Tim Horton’s meatless burger may have flopped, but the start-up, Beyond Meat, enjoyed a successful IPO in May, beginning its first day of trading at $25 a share and ending at $65.75—one of the biggest first-day pops of the decade. (It was trading north of $70 when I wrote this.) McDonald’s used Canada as a testbed for its new PLT, for plant, lettuce and tomato. And Impossible Foods released a meatless version of the Burger King Whopper. Never mind that some of these burgers aren’t particularly nutritious. Hopefully, such plant-based alternatives convince even the most enthusiastic of carnivores that not every meal requires a serving of meat.

Dopamine fasting / digital detoxing—Recently I retweeted an article from Tim Caulfield that amounted to a wrap up of wellness quackery. Then UCSF professor Cameron Sepah responded by encouraging me to rethink one of the trends the article criticized—the practice of dopamine fasting, which boils down to a “digital detox.” The theory behind the practice suggests that chronic use of social media and smart phones threatens to burn out the brain’s pleasure receptors. To reset things, adherents suggest spending a day avoiding any kind of fun or excitement. No phones, no television, no web surfing or gaming. Basically you’re only allowed to walk around, meditate, write with a pen and paper, or engage in some light exercise. The practice has caught on among start-up types exhausted from the treadmill of life. Does it actually work to reset your capacity to feel pleasure? Well, it’s too new for any scientific studies to exist. But dopamine fasting does feature some surface resemblances to meditating, which has proven benefits. And taking time away from technology is never a bad thing.

Substances and Wellness—For years, public health has gloried in the triumph of saving lives by discouraging smoking. Half of all Canadians smoked in 1965. By 2017, the rate among adult Canadians was down to 15%. Would the abstinence trend extend to less licit substances? Unfortunately no. More than a year has passed since cannabis legalization, and more people than ever before seem to be either smoking cannabis, vaping or swallowing edibles. Never mind the apparent popularity of microdosing LSD for productivity in Silicon Valley. How does this affect your health? Well, thankfully, the cannabis industry’s initial attempt to coopt wellness as a selling point seems to have faded. Media reports about things like popcorn worker’s lung or severe lung ailments suggest that vaping may be more dangerous than first assumed. And it’s hard to be certain of the dose in all those gummy bears. In any event, more people seem to be consuming more consciousness-altering substances. Here’s hoping that everyone stays safe until the science sorts itself out.

Evolving Understanding of Keto and Intermittent Fasting—Years from now, I wonder whether we’ll look back at the keto diet’s meat-, fat- and protein-heavy eating pattern as an anachronism from the 20-teens. And the same might be true for intermittent fasting. At least, that’s what Medcan’s own director of weight management, Dr. David Macklin (@DavidMacklinMD) suggested when he named as a major wellness development the growing public understanding of state-of-the-art nutrition research. Take the key Nutrition Science Initiative study out of Stanford that showed similar weight loss regardless of whether you followed a low-carb or a low-fat eating pattern. Similar research exists regarding intermittent fasting. Ultimately, it seems, how much weight you lose comes down to the number of calories you consume. Neither the kind of calories you consume, nor the timing of that calorie consumption, matters if you’re just focused on weight loss. That said, some people do seem to prefer the keto eating pattern, while others find it easier to eat less when following any of the many types of intermittent fasting. Ultimately, you have to find the eating pattern that works for you.

Life expectancy peaks—Recently Edgewood Health Network CEO Joe Manget agreed to be interviewed at one of our town halls. “Life expectancy may have peaked in Canada,” he told our staff. The notion troubled me, so I started looking into the statistics. For forty years, advances in medicine and public health have prolonged human life in western countries like Canada. Then, in 2019, that growth in life expectancy stopped cold. But the really troubling news comes from the U.S. There, life expectancy peaked in 2014 and has fallen since. The frustrating thing about these numbers is how preventable they are. Mental health plays an enormous role in these trends, in the form of opioid addiction, alcohol abuse and suicide on both sides of the border. As a society, as individuals, we can and should do better. Employers, take care of your workforce. Colleagues, look out for your coworkers. And please, take care of YOURSELF most of all. Exercise. Get enough sleep. Eat a balanced diet. Talk to a psychologist or mental health professional. If enough of us follow that simple advice, we can and will turn these numbers around.

And that was the year that was. What will 2020 bring? One thing’s for certain: You’ll see some exciting developments at Medcan. Here’s to a safe and happy holidays!

Shaun Francis is Medcan’s CEO and chair. Follow him on Twitter @shauncfrancis. Connect with him on LinkedIn. And follow him on Instagram @shauncfrancis.

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