In her latest report detailing personalised nutrition's (PN’s) prospects for 2019, Mariette Abrahams points to a recent publication that says trust in government institutions to provide nutrition and dietary advice increased from 25% in 2017 to 38% in 2018.
Observations from the publication written by The International Food Information Council (IFIC) coincide with a crackdown of unscientific blogger pages by Facebook.
In addition, a high-profile case involving a pregnancy supplement regimen offered by Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand Goop was allegedly in breach of UK advertising and trading standards.
Speaking to NutraIngredients about some of the consumer considerations needed in addressing PN’s challenges Abrahams said “There is a lot of education that needs to occur in terms of how new technologies work and where to find reliable evidence-based information.
“If big players such as Facebook can crackdown on unscientific nutrition/lifestyle websites, regulators need to do the same and play a role in working with tech giants to make sure that unscientific sites are eliminated.
In addition, consumers have different preferences for who provides personalised nutrition advice, so regulators need to make sure that those who are providing advice are doing so responsibly and have been trained to a minimal standard in order to protect the public. I fully support the campaign for the title "nutritionist" to be protected too.
Abrahams, a nutrition business consultant and business founder argues that while lifestyle bloggers still have a place in influencing brands, the type of consumer following them may change in time.
On the other side of the coin, Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) brands are looking to personalise their offerings to appeal to a certain demographic.
Along with personalisation through e-commerce or other digital tools like apps, this sort of personalisation is typically done by appealing to a certain diet type or foodie tribe.
“In these cases, it’s up to the consumer to decide what works for them – do they eat only 5% carbohydrates and go keto? Or, do they avoid all animal products including honey and go vegan?,” the report said.
“Again, it’s up to the consumer, who typically relies more on friends, family and online influencers than on credentialed experts, to decide upon a preferred dietary pattern.”
Data protection and privacy
Abrahams pointed out the industry was at the very beginning of data protection and privacy which consumers were increasingly aware of.
Nowhere is the use of data-gathering technology such as apps, wearable devices, or specific laboratory methods being used more so than in PN as a way of fine-tuning diet and nutrition.
“However, more needs to be done in order to ensure that bias is eliminated from algorithms created by currently available evidence and men in tech,” she said.
Regulation needs to ensure that apps and products are independently validated and that they are representative of the population. Validated apps and platforms should be subsidised to ensure access, and I would also like to see better regulation of apps and platforms that are increasingly providing medical nutrition advice, but are falling in the "grey area".
She added that regulators would need to ensure that companies are liable should anything go wrong adding, “regulators and policy makers need to make nutrition a priority with financial commitment to help consumers make the shift towards healthier living”.
On similar lines, the report also discusses the importance of reassuring consumers that health insurance companies or their employers for example do not misuse health data stored in cloud-based servers.
“I think companies need to be very transparent in their communications, give people easy access into what information is stored and how they collaborate with partners,” she said.
However these documents or web pages can be incredibly long, written in very small font, that I am not sure people actually read. Therefore, they just "trust" that the company will be responsible, but this is not enough.
“I think reinforcement of GDPR is crucial in order for consumers to have confidence that regulators have their interest at heart and that their data is safe. I also think consumers should be and stay sceptical with what happens to their data.
“A sceptical person always asks questions, if we stop asking questions it means we accept the status quo, and that is a risky place to be. I do not think with all the scandals we've seen that last year that we can let the ball drop.”
Commoditisation of health
Such data-gathering/storage technology falls under the PN umbrella, in which Axiom Market Research & Consulting estimated the PN industry to be worth €1.4bn ($1.6bn) in 2018 and estimated to grow to €2.5bn ($2.9bn) by 2025.
The growth of PN has led some to believe the health and well-being is increasingly becoming commoditised with an emphasis on ensuring customer loyalty and engagement via personalised solutions and services.
Having experience in both the public and private sector, Abrahams believes that behaviour change can only occur if individuals are really engaged and if recommendations fit their lifestyle.
“Some individuals need face-to face consultations, other like real-time data, others like group support etc. Therefore, I am not against the idea, however, access to services and products need to be equitable, affordable and relevant to the population served.
“For this to happen we need to have more public and private partnerships as a way to improve public health.
“I have read that individuals, who pay for a service, are likely to value it more and stick with it, even if the fee is minimal. So if subsidised products and services are available, and individuals are willing to stick with it for a prolonged period of time, everybody wins.”