What does “wellness” mean today—and what will it mean in the future? These were the questions addressed by three top medical visionaries at Friday’s “Future of Wellness” session at Natural Products Expo West.
Led by Natural Foods Merchandiser Editor Anna Soref, the panel brought together Alan Greene, MD, author of Raising Baby Green; pediatric expert William Sears, MD, assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Irvine, and author of more than 20 books about children’s health; and Gerard Mullin, MD, director of Integrative Gastroenterology Nutrition Services at Johns Hopkins University. The session was a follow-up to this month’s special section of NFM that featured interviews with 13 thought leaders, many of whom work in sectors outside the natural products industry.
Leading physicians Gerard Mullin, William Sears and Alan Greene talk with NFM Editor Anna Soref.
Wellness is no longer just an absence of symptoms, the experts agreed. “The idea of wellness has evolved,” said Greene. “We’re all connected. There’s not a separation between us and the environment, other species and each other.” Right now physicians are still in the business of “disease management,” added Mullin, and wellness needs to move toward the idea of “optimal functioning.”
The experts also discussed how healthy living needs to be introduced much earlier than it is today, long before the onset of what we consider “age-related” diseases, such as osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. “Disease begins in childhood,” said Sears. “We need to focus on making changes early on.” Introducing children to healthy foods in the first year of life—indeed, in utero—sets the gut to recognize these foods as healthy choices throughout life, Greene and Sears pointed out. “I no longer use the term ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’ in my practice; I use ‘prediabetic,’” said Sears. “It motivates parents to make a change.”
Experts also weighed in about whether or not government could be held responsible for personal health. Although there was general agreement that government could help spur people to make healthier choices through taxes of unhealthy ingredients, for example, each of the experts supported the idea that individuals should take personal responsibility for their own wellness. “At Expo, the booths and products send the message of self care, that people can take care of themselves,” said Sears. “We can empower the patient.”