We take a look at the modern problems facing population health – what they are, why they matter, and what can we do to move past them.
We live in an increasingly unhealthy world.
For all of the advances in medicine and technology, the general population is experiencing obesity and preventable pain at higher rates than at any other time in recorded human history.
In the US alone, musculoskeletal (MSK) health dysfunction currently impacts an estimated 194 million people.
90% of employers state MSK-related payouts as their top medical spend.
Over 70% of US military applicants fail physical testing upon entry.
The recent World Health Organization's Global Status Report of Physical Activity stated that:
81 % of adolescents and 27.5% of adults don’t meet recommended levels of physical activity.
Among high-income nations, 70% of all healthcare costs will soon be spent on treating illnesses resulting from physical inactivity.
The numbers paint a bleak picture of a distinctly modern crisis. The problem is not new, but it is at a tipping point. Even as companies race to enter the market with new and exciting technologies, most fail to make a lasting impact on any meaningful scale. The underlying reasons are complex, but that does not absolve us from trying to build better, more accessible solutions.
A new approach to physical health – one that enables every individual to take ownership of their own body and how they feel in it – is necessary to address these critical problems.
But first, it's important to understand how we are currently falling short. When it comes to thinking about and solving MSK health issues, the fitness industry as we know it has some significant barriers to overcome.
Barrier #1: Most fitness content isn’t designed for the needs of the general population.
As the numbers above indicate, many people are struggling to maintain a consistent and positive relationship with physical activity. Our collective movement health suffers because of it – there are arguably more people lacking motivation and experiencing MSK dysfunction (and pain) than not.
Truth is, most of us have never had access to meaningful movement-based health solutions beyond general recommendations to move more – get outside, walk to work, take the stairs instead of the elevator.
Digital exercise content and fitness platforms are everywhere, but many focus on the small percentage of people who are already physically literate and healthy. They aren’t built to be effective or sustainable solutions for individuals who need additional guidance.
Furthermore, these platforms are often template-based and guided mainly by user preferences. This approach gives people people a sense of personalization, but it presents a big problem from a movement health perspective.
Imagine walking into a doctor or physiotherapist’s office with a problem and picking your own prescription – it probably wouldn’t end well. There’s good reason that assessing individual needs before prescribing solutions is the norm with 1-on-1 in-person care.
Unfortunately, we have yet to see this demonstrated effectively at scale.
Barrier #2: Technology that enables physical health practitioners is inherently limited.
The best solutions currently available better enable physical health practitioners (personal trainers, physical therapists, etc.) to serve their clients. These products and services provide great value in helping health professionals create new environments for sustainable behavior change.
For example, personalized tech for fitness trainers took off when coaching platforms and Athlete Management Software (AMS) introduced ways to manually manage more clients by programming with some level of scalability.
Similarly, personalized tech for physical therapists has emerged via telehealth and computer vision software, making assessing and compliance tracking more accessible in recent years.
In both cases, these solutions are impactful and important. There is no replacing personal care from qualified doctors, therapists and trainers. Current technology has enabled the 1-1 care model to scale, but only to an extent. Even with great tech, individual health practitioners can only monitor and adapt programming for so many people at once.
At the end of the day, they simply can’t hope to address the sheer volume of people in need.
Putting the pieces together: Our current model isn't working.
For most people, long-term guidance from a specialist, coach or trainer is not an accessible solution for improving physical health. As a result, many of us turn to popular digital solutions that are marketed to the masses but actually geared toward a minority who are already physically healthy.
The mismatch has created a model for physical health where people feel compelled to wait until their condition is “bad enough” before taking action. By this point, individuals are often so far removed from physical activity that the concept of getting “back into” their health feels too big to address.
When human to human coaching isn’t an option, we need to use technology to give people more ownership over their own physical health for the long-term. We must innovate to improve the status quo for the masses with dynamic solutions that are both accessible and personalized for individual needs.
The existing model is costly, and it is broken – it doesn’t effectively improve health outcomes in the short term, and it doesn’t actually change behavior in the long term.
The future is meeting people where they really are.
People who are already active will always exercise – either at home, in the gym or in a hybrid experience. Digital platforms that boomed during the last few years haven’t actually changed the model of care, and therefore will continue to battle for the attention of a fixed number of people who are already physically active and healthy.
To meaningfully address the needs of the rest of the general population, there are some key criteria that any solution must take into account: accessibility, personalization and scalability. In the realm of movement health, we think that looks like frequent assessments, evidence-based exercise prescriptions, and insights that help promote measurable improvement over time for every individual.
Apps like Headspace and Calm are good examples of this done right in an adjacent industry. Their accessible platforms brought existing modalities of meditation, mindfulness and breathwork to the general population at scale with engaging, highly-personalized solutions and a low barrier to entry. They successfully used technology to introduce an existing methodology to the masses, and helped usher in a new era of digital wellness as a result.
In the world of physical health, we are starting to move in the right direction. There are emerging platforms that incentivize behaviour change without gimmicks or shortcuts. There are personalization systems being built to enable remote monitoring of our health. Innovation meeting demand in this context helps humans feel better, today.
We know that no one solution can solve for the pain and MSK issues facing millions of people. As the saying goes, “ if you want to go fast, go alone. It you want to go far, go together.” At movr, we've spent the last few years developing our movement health system. Today, we're excited to be working with innovative partners in health, tactical and fitness technology to move toward our vision of making movement health attainable for everybody and every body.
In the next part of this series, we explore two promising areas of innovation bound to make a lasting impact on health technology.
movr is an assessment-based movement health technology company. Our goal is to help measurably improve musculoskeletal health with innovative technology solutions within an ever-changing health space.
Interested in learning more? Reach out here.