I went to the first Balance Festival held in London on Friday. A three day festival dedicated to health and fitness shows how big the industry has grown over the years and is still a growing in the UK.

I attended the Health and Wellness Summit Friday morning, which included a series of talks about the health and fitness industry and looked at future trends. Health is something not only the leisure industry is watching and researching but the government too, as obesity levels continue to rise alongside other diseases like cancer and diabetes.

Some of the wellness trends emerging from research by The Future Laboratory are

  • Wellness is booming, with gyms, classes, spas, yoga retreats etc creating sales of £2.8 trillion. Bigger sales than pharmaceutical companies.
  • Optimisation over perfection, being fit and healthy rather than being thin.
  • People taking responsibility for their health through fitness and diet as they want to go into their old age as fit and healthy as possible and able to enjoy their 50s and over life.
  • Social wellness where we look for places to get fit and socialise. Instead of nightclubs you have fitness hangouts where you work out and then hangout but with a health drink rather than a cocktail
  • Sleep is seen as a big thing, because people struggle to get 8hrs a night. So, you have food and drinks as well as clothing designed to help people sleep.
  • Recovery time to optimise fitness. Sleep is a big part of this as well but also stretch classes and active wear to help you recover after a hard work out.
  • Dirty detox – high levels of pollution in the air from traffic makes it harder to stay healthy and people are seeking out indoor places that provide clean air and filtered water.
  • Virtual reality used to help people relax. I liked the idea of this as I’d love people to be able to visit a Free Range Dairy Farm and meet the cows and farmers and this could be a good way to get people on a dairy farm from the comfort of their home!

The last one offers an exciting opportunity for people to really find out where they’re food has come from. No more fake farm names on the label as people will be want to see the actual farms.

Another interesting presentation was from Caroline Cromar, who spoke about how they came to launch Veggie Pret. Customer feedback showed that over 45% of their customers wanted a veggie shelf or a Veggie Pret. Pret A Manger decided to try a Veggie pop up shop in Soho to see how it went and found 50% of meat eaters went to Veggie Pret and sales grew by 70%. On the day they opened people queued in the street and they ran out of food. Now they have two, one in Soho and Shoreditch.

They’re seeing a trend towards more plant based eating and people want to eat less meat. Their strapline of ‘Not just for Veggies’ really captured the move towards quick and convenient healthy eating.

After the talks, I went to the ‘Market Place’ to see what food was being sold to accompany this health and fitness trend and saw mostly dairy free, gluten free, sugar free, meat free and low fat produce. The future trend of optimisation over perfection doesn’t seem to be reflected in the food on offer. Clean eating is about cooking from scratch, fresh whole ingredients but instead a more extreme version has taken hold with some Doctors fearing it is doing more harm than good. Deliciously Ella  and others have been the face of Clean Eating with gluten, sugar, meat and dairy free recipes but Ella adopted this diet due to serious health problems. Health problems that most of the people following this eating regime don’t have. It’s also potentially going to pose serious bone health problems for women who give up dairy and then put themselves at risk of osteoporosis  Dr Ian Givens of Reading University research has seen women in their early 40s having hip replacement due to low fat diets, so what will no fat/dairy free diets mean for women in the future?

Recent research has shown that consuming dairy does not raise the risk of heart disease and another speaker Dr Aseem Malhotra, a consultant cardiologist  confirmed this by showing that by switching from butter to plant based margarine has not seen a decrease in obesity or heart diseases. We need to look at calorie control but also what’s in the food that provides those calories. He mentioned how Tobacco Companies used a variety of ways to fight the campaign for Comprehensive Smokefree Legislation, a campaign I worked on, and Dr Malhorta thinks the food industry is using similar tactics to confuse consumers. He said eat real food in all its varieties, something I agree with. People call whole milk, full fat milk but it’s only 3.8% fat. Another food product with that much fat would be marketing itself as a diet food and it is the fat in the milk that helps our bodies absorb all the nutrients, vitamins, calcium, omegas that makes milk such a powerhouse of goodness.

As a nation, we need help. We need to get fitter and healthier and exercise and healthy eating will play a big part of that. Instead of thinking that a quick fix such as giving up meat, dairy, gluten or sugar will give us that short cut we need, we have to approach our diet in a more holistic way. Not all milk is the same and we’re looking at the different composition of milk depending on what the cows have eaten. More and more evidence is emerging to show milk from a grass based diet is better for you. We need to eat less but we also need that food to be packed with goodness. A little bit of what you fancy can be a good thing, as the festival says it’s all about ‘Balance’.

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