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2021's Fastest-Growing Health Trends

This is a list of emerging health trends in 2021.

In this new report we’ll cover:

  • How telemedicine is changing healthcare
  • Why millennials are opting for “self care”
  • Advanced robotics technology being used in the healthcare world
  • Why fasting is taking off
  • Lots more

With that, let’s start with our first trend:

1. Surging Demand for Telemedicine

Telemedicine is expected to grow from $45.5 billion to $175.5 billion by 2026.

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Growth of the telemedicine industry through 2026.

While virtual healthcare services were already growing before COVID-19, the pandemic has caused interest in this area to skyrocket.

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Search interest in “telehealth” over time.

One notable player in this space is Hims, Inc.

Hims provides virtual medical visits with general practitioners for as low as $39.

They also offer psychiatric consults, consults for prescription hair-loss medicine, prescription acne cream and more.

All presented via an ecommerce-style website. (Actually, two: forhims.com and forhers.com.)

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Hims, Inc. offers online medical services in an ecommerce shopping experience.

Other telehealth businesses include the British Babylon Health and the French Doctolib, both of which offer mobile apps for virtual medical consults.

As well as the US-based Teladoc, which offers 24/7 access to telehealth consults with doctors and has a market cap of $15 billion as of this writing.

Not to mention InTouch Health, which offers a platform for healthcare providers to offer their own virtual care services.

Of course, for Americans, the biggest question is always “Will my insurance cover it?”

But in the case of telehealth, the answer is “yes”: 42 states (and Washington, DC) now legally require private insurers to cover telehealth services.

Which is great news. Because according to Accenture, 62% of consumers would prefer a virtual healthcare option in at least some instances.

2. Millennials Prioritize Self-Care

Self-care is an extremely popular spending category among Millennials, who spend more than twice as much on it as Baby Boomers do.

As part of the multi-trillion-dollar global wellness industry, 9 out of 10 Americans practice some kind of self-care, and a third of them have increased their self-care activities recently.

This meta trend includes habits, products and services that help achieve the overall goal of well-being. Both mental and physical.

For example, meditation apps have been on a tear recently.

As a group, the top 10 meditation apps brought in an estimated $195 million in 2019: up 52% from the year before.

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Searches for “meditation app” have been rising.

Founded in 2012, Calm -- the startup behind the popular Calm meditation app -- was last valued at $1 billion. (Up from $250M in 2018.)

Other major meditation apps include Headspace, Waking Up, Breethe, Insight Timer and Ten Percent Happier.

Skincare is another product category that’s been booming as part of the self-care movement.

As we reported last week, skincare sales have been rising by about 5% per year since 2014. And 2020 is a historic year for skincare products, as they started outselling makeup products for the first time.

Skincare incumbents like L'Oreal's CeraVe have been taking full advantage of this wave.

But so have newer brands like Goop, Acaderma and DRMTLGY.

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Searches for skincare startup DRMTLGY have exploded recently.

When it comes to self-care purchases, consumers are reportedly very open to experimenting with new brands, services and product types. Leaving a big opening for skincare startups to make a dent.

That openness to new products also explains how CBD products, which were not legalized nationwide in the US until 2018, are now used by 28% of US consumers.

As a category, CBD products are expected to reach $20 billion in sales by 2024.

People are placing more importance on sleep now, too.

(35.3% of adults get less than sleep than they should, and loss of sleep has been linked to health problems like depression, obesity and diabetes.)

Though the pandemic has slowed it down its growth, one highly trending solution to sleep loss is sleep pods.

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Searches for “sleep pods” over time.

Sleep pods are enclosed, private bedrooms for naps or overnight sleeping in public spaces like airports, train stations, shopping malls and business offices.

Organizations like Google, Mercedes-Benz, HuffPost and NASA now all offer pods, rooms or beds for their employees to take power naps at the office.

Sellers of sleep pods include MetroNaps (which uses a partly-enclosed chair design for its EnergyPods), Podtime (which uses a fully enclosed design), and Pop & Rest (which operates its own napping centers and also sells sleep pods).

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The MetroNaps EnergyPod.

At home, the priority is sleep hygiene: optimizing your habits and bedroom for better sleep.

Trackers like the Oura Ring are helping people understand their sleep cycles and improve their habits.

Another way people are getting better sleep is with apps like SleepTown.

SleepTown is a habit-tracking and coaching app with one goal: to help you sleep more. And apparently, it works: searches for “SleepTown” have increased 1,500% over the past 5 years.

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The SleepTown app.

The same app developer that made SleepTown is also behind Forest.

This app helps with productivity as well as work-life balance, another component of self-care.

The app uses gamification to help people spend less time on their smartphones.

It effectively locks your phone with a slow animation of a growing tree. If you interrupt its growth by using the phone for something else before the timer runs out, the tree dies.

3. Fasting Goes Mainstream

The global weight loss and obesity management market is forecasted to exceed $253.1 billion by 2024, at a compound annual growth rate of 6.2%.

And 43% of Americans say they’ve followed a specific diet or eating pattern within the last year. (Up from 38% in 2019.)

Of those diets and eating patterns, the most popular is intermittent fasting at 10%.

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5-year growth in search interest for intermittent fasting.

Intermittent fasting is the practice of avoiding all food and beverages except water, coffee and unsweetened tea for an extended period of time.

In practice, it’s used in two different ways:

The first is every day, typically for a majority of the day.

For example, “16:8” intermittent fasting consists of an 8 hour eating window during the day, followed by a 16 hour fasting window overnight and into the next day.

This is also called “time-restricted eating”. And it’s been shown to help with fat loss, enhance aerobic capacity and reduce the risk of diabetes.

The other way intermittent fasting is used is occasionally, avoiding all foods for a full 24 hour period or longer.

(Sometimes this is simply called “fasting”.)

Studies show that longer fasting periods like these can protect heart function, reduce the risk or symptoms of diseases like Alzheimer’s, and generally improve lifespan.

While an impressive 87% of those who have tried intermittent fasting to lose weight say it was effective for that purpose.

Intermittent fasting is clearly a popular — and apparently effective — diet. So it’s no surprise that a variety of products and companies have emerged to help people stick with it.

For example:

Mobile apps like Zero and LIFE, which offer fasting timers and tips. As well as integration with social apps and fitness trackers.

As the most popular fasting app, Zero alone has now logged over 2 billion fasted hours. Founded by entrepreneur and investor Kevin Rose, the company recently raised an $8 million Series A round led by Greycroft.

And both Zero and LIFE also offer premium memberships with additional features like personalized coaching. (Zero’s costs $69.99 per year while LIFE’s costs $2.99 per month.)

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Searches for “Zero app” over time.

Fasting tea. Just about any plain tea can be used for fasting purposes, like green tea, black tea, hibiscus, ginger, and more.

These teas can help make fasting easier than water alone. And it’s thought that caffeinated teas may help increase the effectiveness of the fast.

There are also specialized teas like the crystallized Pique Tea.

Pique creates its concentrated teas through a “cold-brew crystallization” process, resulting in a form of tea that dissolves in hot or cold water. No tea bag or steeping needed.

Zero Tea is another brand that’s geared toward fasting purposes.

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Search interest in fasting tea has been ramping up in recent years.

Intermittent fasting kits are another product type in this space.

Some people consider temporary periods of caloric restriction to be intermittent fasting as well. So intermittent fasting kits can include a variety of supplements and/or foods, to be portioned out over a series of days.

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Searches for “intermittent fasting kit” over time.

There are also a variety of diets related to intermittent fasting. Including the fasting mimicking diet, the Longevity Diet, the Warrior Diet, alternate day fasting and OMAD.

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Search volume for ”OMAD” over time.

(Not to mention religious fasts like those during Ramadan, Lent and Yom Kippur.)

And the fasting meta trend goes beyond food.

Non-dietary fasts include:

Skin fasts — avoiding skincare products for a period of days or weeks, which some dermatologists say allows the skin to return to its natural balance.

Dopamine fasts — a fast from excitement, in order for people to let themselves feel bored and reset their ability to focus.

Screen fasts, social media fasts and media fasts — similar to a dopamine fast, these fasts are intended to give yourself a break from exciting or anxiety-producing stimulation.

4. Rise of Medical Robots

The global medical robotics market is forecasted to reach $24.87 billion by 2025, up from $7.2 billion in 2019.

Robotic-assisted surgical equipment makes up most of the market currently, with industry leader Intuitive Surgical earning over $4 billion per year alone.

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Search interest in Intuitive Surgical over time.

Intuitive Surgical makes Da Vinci surgical robots.

As of the end of 2019, more than 7.2 million procedures had been completed with them.

The Da Vinci isn’t autonomous: it’s a tool that surgeons operate. But it helps them make more precise incisions and sutures, thanks to features like its “adaptive motion scaling”.

(The system also allows for telesurgery — where, for example, a surgeon in New York can operate on a patient in California. But this practice is still in very early stages and not widely done.)

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The Intuitive Surgical Da Vinci.

Intuitive also sells a robotic-assisted platform for minimally invasive lung biopsies. As of this writing, the company has a market cap of $84 billion.

Competitors include Stryker ($79B market cap) and Medtronic ($146B), both of which also sell non-robotic medical devices.

Only about 2% of global surgeries use robotic assistance, which leaves huge room for growth.

But the surgical segment isn’t expected to be the fastest-growing portion of medical robotics.

That crown belongs to rehabilitation robots.

The rehabilitation robotics category is forecasted to grow from $530 million in 2018 to $2.6 billion in 2026.

One rehabilitation robot is the EksoNR by Ekso Bionics.

The EksoNR is an exoskeleton that lets patients with brain injuries stand and walk during their rehabilitation.

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The EksoNR by Ekso Bionics.

Ekso Bionics also produces the EksoUE, for upper-body mobility.

Other rehabilitation robotics include:

The Armeo Power by Hocoma. This Switzerland-based company boasts that 9 of the 10 best U.S. rehabilitation hospitals use their solutions.

A whole range of bionics from Cyberdyne, including for the legs, the lower back and the elbow.

The ReWalk Exoskeleton and ReStore Exo-Suit, which are also available for personal use. (The ReWalk Exoskeleton was the first exoskeleton to get FDA clearance for personal and rehabilitation use.)

And the InMotion ARM by Bionik, which is a type of robotic device known as an “end-effector” system. Unlike an exoskeleton, the base of the InMotion ARM system stays in one place while part of it is used by the patient.

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The InMotion ARM, a fixed robotic rehabilitation device.

It’s still early days for rehabilitation robots, but studies have shown that their use can strongly improve motor recovery in injured patients.

Exoskeletons are also being tested as a way to give mobility to paralyzed people who are beyond rehabilitation.

As a whole, the exoskeleton robotics market is expected to grow at an incredible 45.2% compound annual growth rate, reaching $2.8 billion in value by 2023. (Though part of that growth will be fueled by military and industrial applications.)

Here are some other examples of robotics in healthcare:

XENEX disinfection robots. In the U.S., about as may people die from healthcare-associated infections as from AIDS, breast cancer and car accidents combined. XENEX robots use UV light to disinfect hospital rooms and surgery wards, reducing infection rates by 50-100%.

Cell-sized Nanorobots, which are being developed at University of California San Diego to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Robotic prosthetics: bionic arms and legs with receptors that allow patients’ to “feel” as if they were their natural limbs. These aren’t yet in widespread use, but three Swedish patients have been living with such prostheses for years.

Moxi, a friendly robotic hospital assistant. It brings supplies to patients’ rooms, delivers lab samples, transports soiled linens and more.

The Medineering endoscopic robot, which can move and hold an endoscope (tiny camera) inside a patient’s body with more precision than human hands can.

Small “capsule robots” being developed by Vanderbilt University for colonoscopies, biopsies and polyp removal.

The world’s first implantable bionic human eye, developed by Australia’s Monash University and successfully trialed in sheep in July.

Autonomous robots that may be able to conduct surgery (or parts of it) on their own in human patients within a few years. One was already able to outperform human surgeons in a controlled testing environment in 2016.

Conclusion

That concludes our list of fast-growing health and wellness trends in 2021.

It’s interesting to note how many of these trends (like robotics) are due to cutting edge tech. While others (like fasting) take cues from the past.

Last Updated: 
February 2, 2021
Josh Howarth
Co-founder of Exploding Topics.

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