Assessment: The flow of new medical advances will not slow in the next 40 years, and probably not in the next 75.
Implications: In the next ten years, we expect to see more and better bionic limbs, hearts, and other organs; drugs that prevent disease rather than merely treating symptoms; and body monitors that warn of impending trouble. These all will reduce hospital stays.
Outside the United States, transplants of brain cells, nerve tissue, and stem cells to aid victims of retardation, head trauma, and other neurological disorders will enter clinical use by 2012. Laboratory-grown bone, muscle, and blood cells also will be employed in transplants.
Expect also the first broadly effective treatments for viral diseases, experimental regeneration of lost or damaged human tissues, and effective ways to prevent and correct obesity.
By 2025, the first nanotechnology-based medical therapies should reach clinical use. Microscopic machines will monitor our internal processes, remove cholesterol plaques from artery walls, and destroy cancer cells before they have a chance to form a tumor.
Forecasting International believes that cloning and related methods will be accepted for the treatment of disease, though not to produce identical human beings.
Even without dramatic advances in life extension, Baby Boomers are likely to live much longer, and in better health, than anyone now expects. However, this trend could be sidetracked by the current epidemic of obesity, which threatens to raise rates of hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis among Boomers if a cure is not found quickly enough.
However, a significant extension of healthy, vigorous life—to around 115 or 120 years as a first step—now seems more likely than no extension at all. The most significant question remaining, other than the scientific details, is whether it will arrive in time for the Baby Boom generation to benefit or will be limited to their children and descendents.
High development and production costs for designer pharmaceuticals, computerized monitors, and artificial organs will continue to push up the cost of health care far more rapidly than the general inflation rate. Much of these expenses will be passed on to Medicare and other third-party payers. Severe personnel shortages can be expected in high-tech medical specialties, in addition to the continuing deficit of nurses.
A growing movement to remove barriers to stem-cell research in the United States could speed progress in this critical field. This could be expected to produce new treatments for neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease and many other illnesses now incurable or untreatable. It also would recover one aspect of America’s lost lead in science.
Implications for Hospitality and Travel: This trend is responsible for the growing number of older, fitter seniors who remain able not only to travel, but to participate in relatively vigorous activities at their destination. Their numbers will grow rapidly as the Baby Boom generation reaches their retirement years. Accommodating the needs of healthy seniors will be a major priority for the hospitality and travel industry in the coming decades.
This trend also is a major source of medical tourism, in which travelers combine a vacation with low-cost, high-quality medical care in places such as India, Thailand, South Africa, or Eastern Europe. Medical tourism will bring India alone an estimated $2.2 billion per year by 2012.
6. The physical culture and personal-health movements are improving health in much of the world, but they are far from universal.
During the 1990s, health in the United States improved by 1.5 percent annually, based on such measures as smoking prevalence, health-insurance coverage, infant mortality rates, and premature deaths. Since 2000, health improvement has slowed to just 0.2 percent a year, largely due to personal choices. The global obesity crisis is a significant countertrend to the physical-culture movement. Poor diet, physical inactivity, and associated obesity contribute to 47 percent of diseases and 60 percent of deaths worldwide. However, health consciousness is spreading to Europe. For example, a recent poll found that two-thirds of Britons now spend more to maintain a healthy lifestyle than they did a decade ago, and three out of four say they enjoy leading a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, much of the developing world still worries more about eating enough than about eating well.
Assessment: This trend always seems a case of two steps forward, at least one step back. We expect it to continue for at least the next generation.
Implications: As the nutrition and wellness movements spread, they will further improve the health of the elderly. Better health in later life will make us still more conscious of our appearance and physical condition. Thus, health clubs will continue to boom, and some will specialize in the needs of older fitness buffs.
Diet, fitness, stress control, and wellness programs will prosper. States will continue to mandate insurance coverage of mammography. By 2012, they will begin to require coverage of sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy. By 2015,Congress will add coverage of many preventive-care activities to Medicare. The cost of health care for American Baby Boomers and their children could be much lower in later life than is now believed.
However, Asia faces an epidemic of cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and other chronic and fatal illnesses related to health habits. Like tobacco companies, producers of snack foods, liquor, and other unhealthy products will increasingly target markets in developing countries where this trend has yet to be felt. Continuing health improvements in the industrialized world will be accompanied by a dramatic rise in heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other such “lifestyle” disorders in the developing lands. Chronic diseases related to obesity burden national economies and could thwart economic progress in developing countries.
Implications for Hospitality and Travel: Most cruise lines, high-end hotels, and resorts already have adapted to their guests’ wish for nutritious, low-calorie meals, exercise facilities, and tobacco-free areas, particularly in the United States. Their peers in other lands will find themselves forced to make similar concessions to health consciousness in the next decade.
This trend also means that hospitality and travel operators will be receiving more guests who are older, wealthier, and fitter, still able to indulge in vigorous activities that their counterparts of an earlier era would not have considered.