How does culture influence our notions of health?

In sickness and health

Health is one of the megatrends in our modern society. It shapes what we see as a good life, how we perceive ourselves and what we demand from the state, medicine and technology. Our idea of what we see as sick or healthy is deeply rooted in culture.

Accordingly, innovations in medicine, technology and the like only become relevant in the everyday lives of many people when they take the cultural narratives of our societies into account – or even manage to redefine them. In this way, relevant innovations can contribute, for example, to a positive change of our image of old age or eating habits. In this trendletter, I share human strategy insights from our latest projects on how health, digitization and the Silver Society are interwoven.

#The culture of health

The design and optimisation of the body, both aesthetically and health-wise, have become a common challenge. At the same time, however, the context of modern life usually creates very unfriendly conditions for the body (through fast food, sedentary work in the office, stress due to multitasking and information overflow etc.) and thus intensifies the tension between demand and practicability. This creates a need for action: Consumers look for balance by returning to naturalness or active self-treatment. Over-the-counter medicines no longer aim only at pharmaceutical solutions but reach further and further into the areas of nutrition, mental balance and beauty. Hence the request for individual health products is growing. Products and services that can no longer rely on authoritarian recommendation channels and their “One size fits all” approach.

It is essential to understand the beliefs and personal goals of consumers behind health-related habits and decisions in order to create solutions that are not only functionally important but feel right.
Inga Nandzik, Director of Innovation Strategy

#Artificial Intelligence in healthcare

Like many other industries, the healthcare market is facing the new challenges posed by digital transformation. Access to digital applications for self-monitoring and surveying as well as social media with their new aesthetic standards create great pressure for self-optimization. At the same time, the digitization of the healthcare sector offers the potential for more individuality, flexibility and subjectivation of products and services. The field of artificial intelligence particularly offers great opportunities to tackle challenges in the healthcare system. Physicians can be supported by data-based systems for example in diagnosis or administrative work, in order to gain more time for patient care. Or chatbots and apps can be used to help people who don’t have access to healthcare, want to track their health data or wish for uncomplicated remote diagnostics.

Child Growth Monitor

The Child Growth Monitor of Welthungerhilfe, an augmented reality app, can detect child malnutrition with the help of AI and contribute to combating it.

Izzy the chatbot

This chatbot is tailored to women and provides digital assistance in monitoring the monthly cycle. You can also talk to Izzy about topics related to gynaecology.

AI in diagnosis

Convolutional neuronal networks (CNN) are partly more reliable than dermatologists in the diagnosis of skin cancer on the basis of photos of moles, as recent experiments showed.

#Silver Society: Why we need a behaviour change in old age

If we also understand health in the future as continuous and holistic self-management, this will change our perspective on ageing. The Age Lab at MIT in Cambridge is researching the cultural narratives of old age and finds that while medicine is continuously researching how we can cure diseases from dementia to cancer – living significantly longer than we did a few decades ago – at the same time our society is failing to redefine this time gained and develop positive perspectives for old age.

Therefore, AgeLab designs products and services that become relevant in the growing market of elderly people. At the same time, they do not provide a stereotypical picture of old age, because: “Old people don’t buy anything that reminds them that they are old. They are a target group that doesn’t want to be addressed.” Adam Gopnik highlights this tension field between culture and innovative technology in his article for The New Yorker.