Have we reached ”Peak Health” – Or the end of the health trend as we know it?
For a while now, I have been having this itch, this regular itch that comes every now and then. It’s usually based on a hunch, a feeling and reflection about a trend or phenomenon that I need to pursue, research, identify and clarify.
For the past five years now I have worked full time researching and identifying trends in active lifestyle, LOHAS, outdoor, sports, nutrition and health. In total I have worked with consumer trends for almost 20 years, starting as a freelance journalist at the tender age of 18. And it is based on these many years of experience, that I come to the conclusion that we have reached ”Peak Health” – or that we are seeing the end of the health trend as we know it.
A couple of years ago, when the first large health bloggers and Instagram-stars started to emerge, it felt to many, including myself, like a fresh, humane and healthy (!) contrast to the many years of pure fashion bloggers only publishing their daily outfits or similar superficial representations of an idealised life.
The first generation of health bloggers where usually really well-researched, hade a genuine interest and passion for a healthy, balanced lifestyle and didn’t seem to care that much about what other people thought about their lifestyle choices. Instead, they wrote out of passion and for the small but tight knit community of likeminded people. Then something happened.
Suddenly, the interest in a sustainable, healthy lifestyle reached a tipping point where more and more ordinary people started to be curious about testing new types of food, exercising more, recycling etcetera. A huge number of journalists and bloggers who hade previously not showed any interest what so ever in exercising or drinking smoothies (so to say) started to write about their life transforming journey, and kale became the food symbol, almost elevated to a level of ridicule. In Sweden, this happened around 2012-13 and then increased exponentially.
Now, this was – and still is – positive, because more and more people started to shift their focus, think more about their food intake, exercise habits and overall lifestyle (such as work/freetime balance, drinking habits, etc).
If you look at the media reporting about health related stories, tips and features, they increased by several thousand percent during these years, and in parallel we saw an explosion of new running competitions, triahtlons, swimruns, obstacle racing and much more.
Many indications said that this could hardly be a trend that could last, on the other hand, the level of deep-sighted interest, reflected a genuine interest from people to take care of themselves and the world.
If you ask me, more and more people will continue to lead healthy lifestyles, eating better food, exercising more, recycling, shopping less and taking care of the planet. But. And this is a big challenge, we need to rethink about rethorics if we truly want people to not lose interest in health. Because people get bored. Want a new kick. A new cool thing to do. What happens when you have ”tried it all” and is starting to feel that this new lifestyle of yours actually is rather challenging and expensive?
When I say that we have reached ”Peak Health” I mean that in terms of positive media coverage, we now see a clear decrease in number of articles.
Less new bloggers emerge, and sadly enough, the vast majority who do write, are not that knowledgeable and are only covering it on a very superficial level, meaning that readers leave after a while. The majority of cook books that are released are still with some kind of health angle, but this again, is a problem, because most of them offer some kind of quick fix to a healthier lifestyle. Unfortunately there are no quick fixes when it comes to good health, instead it can be tough for many to change years of bad habits, another reason for people to give up too early.
Another aspect of ”Peak Health” is that we see less people signing up for the big sports events, well in total numbers they are still many, but we see a decreased interest in general.
And in social media, people are starting to get more and more irritated and polarized – we basically don’t want to see kale smoothie pictures in the tens of thousands. And let’s not talk about infinite number of yoga poses… Again, it IS good to promote a healthy lifestyle, we just need to rethink how we do this.
I’m still myself in the research phase, and have no clear solution to this. But I believe we need to normalise health to the point where we no longer need to talk about health at all.
Basically, why should we talk about ”Health Food” when we simply can talk about ”Food”?
My personal aim is not a healthy self, just a Self, all by itself. All food should be organic, less processed, pure and if possible, locally produced to reduce the footprint. The food industry should not promote healthy food as a fad, instead there is a need to re-structure the whole system, bottom up, with the consumers who take the lead, changing the course of the industry with their wallets.
In this whole discourse, the sports and outdoor brands are less to ”blame” for wrongdoings than the food industry, although there is a clear need to produce less and better products, clothes and gear to live an active livestyle. But what the food industry has done, is that they have, without you even knowing it, rebranded health:
”The diet industry may just have orchestrated the most successful, and valuable, food rebranding in recent history – as of 2014, the UK gluten-free market was worth €222 million.” – Ruby Tandoh
This is a quote from a fantastic article (link below) I can truly recommend about the complexity, fraudulence and misconceptions about health food – or the health food industry, including the many self-styled ”experts”. Not only is the article well written, researched and focused, but it also illustrates pretty well this current backlash against the whole health phenomenon. It is a rather personal journey that you should read:
Illustration by Marta Parszeniew. A few years ago, I found wellness. My body felt like a burden, and the food I ate didn’t seem to energise me or push me on: it dulled my edges, left me foggy, soft and slow. So I made a change.
Michelle Allison, advocate of the Health At Every Size campaign, explains in the article:
”There is no third option presented by diet culture – there is only black or white, good or bad, dieting or off-the-wagon… And many people flip between the two states like a light switch, on or off, for more or less their entire lives.”
Nobody sums up the totalitarianism of wellness better than Deliciously Ella though. ”It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle.” And that’s just the catch.
Ruby Tandoh continues:
”Wellness doesn’t cause eating disorders. But when we advocate, and even insist upon, a diet so restrictive, moralising and inflexible, and market that diet to young women, and then dress it up as self-care: just how responsible is that?”
Couldn’t agree more. As Publisher of Rawness I have responsibility over people’s lives. Every article published can contribute to both wellbeing and anxiety and disorderly behaviour. Our contributors have been carefully selected because they have a balanced approach to health and life in general. And the word balance is key here – when we understand that life is not black or white, that not all health related advice comply to each and everyone, then we have come far. This is why the normalisation of health needs to take place, and why we need to talk about food and not health food, about life, not active lifestyle.
So the next phase of my research will go deeper into what will come next, the sort of Post-Health phase of the health trend, something that is again not totally clear, but is definitely happening. Basically it is the end of the current health trend as we know it. Some key issues I will dwelve into are:
- How can we normalise health and make certain food the baseline for everyone? Meaning let’s not promote health food, but food that’s good for you (and the planet).
- What actions can publishers such as ourselves take to promote a more balanced view on health (like not promoting quick fixes, top-lists, too-perfect-to-be-true pictures, idealized lifestyles, etcetera)?
- When will people reach a final state of interest in health, and what phase will come next? And what can we do to prolong this into a shift that impacts generations?
- In the long term, what actions can consumers take to change the industry?
- … and what actions will brands have to take in order to earn trust and be sustainable?
Finally, I truly believe that the industry, media, educated experts and passionate advocates of a healthy, sustainable and active lifestyle all have responsibility to form the future of health together, from a holistic, non-judgemental perspective that makes people truly healthier and the planet a better place to live on. And for those of you who don’t really know what steps to take in order to change your life – it’s OK, we all feel lost sometimes.
But never forget the simplest rule of all when it comes to food; if you can figure out the ingredients necessary to make a dish or food, then it’s probably not bad for your health. Although, everything, from kale smoothies to cinnamon buns, have to be indulged with moderation.