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Now is the time to invest in self-care

The coronavirus pandemic has led millions of people to focus more closely on their health – and the science of everyday health is here to help.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic, but thanks to science we have a series of promising vaccines and can begin imagining a post-lockdown world. If we want that world to be healthier than it is today we could start by looking at the ways in which individuals can take better care of their own health.

“Self-care is the starting point for all healthcare solutions, no matter whether it is fighting a cold or looking to support your immune system”, says Heiko Schipper, President of Bayer's Consumer Health Division. The consumer health industry has a clear role to play here, through the creation of products and services that help people prevent and treat everyday health issues.

Allergy medication, for example, can help consumers overcome allergies with quick and lasting relief. Vitamins and dietary supplements help people to maintain the correct intake of micronutrients.

Self-care is the starting point for all healthcare solutions, no matter whether it is fighting a cold or looking to support your immune system

Heiko Schipper, President of Bayer's Consumer Health Division

Consumption of vitamins and the implementation of other preventative health measures such as social distancing and widespread use of disinfectant boomed last year because Covid-19 raised awareness of the importance of maintaining everyday health. We have all had more time to focus on our well-being and fitness during the coronavirus crisis, particularly as exercise was effectively rationed in many countries due to lockdown restrictions.

The rise of self care

Last year an Accenture study of consumer attitudes and behaviour found that ‘personal health’ and the ‘health of family and friends’ were top priorities. Similarly, in a PwC survey, some 69 per cent of consumers reported being more focused on well-being as a result of Covid-19.

Covid-19 has also made it clear just how valuable trips to the doctor’s office and other healthcare resources are. Last August, more than 90 countries reported pandemic-related disruptions to the way individuals access doctors, nurses, community health centres and other essential health services. But even in a non-pandemic environment, self-care can help relieve the pressure on healthcare systems.

In the US, it is estimated that approximately 10 per cent of doctors’ visits could be avoided if individuals instead used the appropriate non-prescription treatments. Avoiding even half of those unnecessary visits would save up to $5.2bn annually. Allergies or hay fever, for example, affect nearly 40 percent of US consumers but only 20.9 per cent of them treat it with an over-the-counter medication.

In the future, self-care is predicted to become more individualised, thanks in no small part to data science

By 2050, there will be two billion people aged over 60 globally, accounting for 21 per cent of the world’s population. Crucially, the challenges of an ageing population require that we maintain healthy behaviours throughout life.

These dynamics and long-term demographic trends point to a growing role for the consumer health sector in enabling everyday health. As the world population grows and ages, the need for safe and effective self-care will grow with it. That will involve a considerable effort from healthcare professionals and the industry in educating older people in self-care.

In the future, self-care is predicted to become more individualised, thanks in no small part to data science. Significantly, Bayer, whose brands are used by an estimated 600 million people in more than 100 countries, acquired a majority stake in November 2020 in Care/of, a leading personalised nutrition company. That’s a clear sign of the way things are moving in the personal healthcare market.

Care/of uses a user-friendly, science-based questionnaire to discover an individual’s health needs, then generates a tailored regimen of vitamins, proteins and collagen supplements and mails it directly to the customer’s home. A subscription-based business, Care/of is only four years old. In that time, it has built a loyal following with the self-care consumers of the future, with millennials making up a significant portion of the company’s customer base.

The take-up of self-care among millennials and the following generation – the so-called Gen Z – is indicative of a noticeable shift in attitudes. “More people are taking an inside-out approach to wellness,” says Kenya Watson, Intelligence Analyst at market intelligence company CB Insights in a recent article. “They are seeing wellness as a reflection of overall health and are wanting to get to the root of issues and tackle them with supplements.”

Science has a responsible role to play here, combining expert insight with a good consumer experience. As Schipper of Bayer observes: “Self-care can’t replace professional healthcare, but it can complement the doctor’s office by delivering expert care in the comfort of the living room.”

Just as society needs science to lead the way in ground-breaking health breakthroughs like new vaccines, science can dramatically improve our everyday health. As we hope for a healthier post-pandemic world, we might all usefully consider how we can use science to take care of ourselves.

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