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Health Trends to Watch For

Health Trends to Watch For

After a year defined in part by the H1N1 virus outbreak, we'll see a rise in pandemic fatalism as people get weary of panic, according to Ann Mack, director of trendspotting at JWT ad agency. But even as new diseases confound doctors, she adds, medical breakthroughs keep coming; a few to watch for in 2010: customized pharmaceuticals and a device that helps blind people use their tongue to "see."

Meanwhile, the recession hasn't weakened consumers' interest in health and wellness, Mack says, and we'll continue to see evidence of this trend marketers touting the next superfoods, with some taking their health and nutrition claims a step too far. Here are more of Mack’s insights:

>Customized pharmaceuticals: Researchers will soon be able to create drugs customized to a patient's DNA. Recent breakthroughs in cancer research make it clear that "one size fits all" drugs are not the best approach. Customized medicine is a map-over from customization in other sectors, especially food and nutrition (customized diets, for example).

>Exotic berry flavors: Watch for several varieties of hitherto unheard-of antioxidant-rich berries -- among them aronia, yumberry, and maqui berry -- to become the next açai berry, the must-eat superfood that pops up in everything from juices and teas to cereal and energy bars.

>Nutrition washing: Watch for a backlash from government authorities and experts against the proliferation of health and nutrition claims from food and beverage brands. Much as "green washing" has made consumers skeptical about brands' environmental claims, shoppers will increasingly take health messaging with a grain of salt.

>Obesogens: Watch for policies on environment pollutants to be spurred by a growing body of research on obesogens, chemical compounds in the environment -- notably from plastics -- that can turn developing cells into fat cells. These stay with a child for life, making weight loss difficult.

>Pandemic fatalism: SARS, avian flu, swine flu -- we've been bombarded with so many candidates for a global pandemic and so much media hyperventilation that, for better or worse, we'll soon start to tune out.

>Virtual house calls: More doctors are seeing patients via the Web, whether they are across town, across the country, or on the other side of the world. While telemedicine gives people in remote locations better access to care, it's increasingly being seen as a way for busy patients everywhere to get attention more quickly. It could also be a prescription for reducing health care costs.

>The Wicab BrainPort: This electronic "lollipop" device could be the next revolutionary aid for the visually impaired. Allowing people to "see" with their tongues, the BrainPort may not be a cure for blindness, but it's innovative and effective enough to carry a $10,000 price tag.

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