Healthy living has moved from the Style section of newspapers and magazines to front page news. Why? Because over half of all deaths today result from largely preventable, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Healthy living can save lives and money.

As described in a report launched by the World Economic Forum and Bain, NCDs could cost the world up to 5% of global GDP in 2030 in lost economic output. Obesity could cut five years off the average American’s life within the next few decades. And in the developing world, NCD risk factors are soaring. Take China, where physical activity has declined by almost 50% over the past 20 years.

For businesses, this is both a challenge and an opportunity. Customers and regulators are demanding healthier products. The businesses that will thrive will be those that deliver a product that not only fills the stomach, increases physical activity or treats disease, but actually makes consumers or patients healthier.

For the food and beverage industry, there is a significant need for healthy, convenient food options. Since 2005, General Mills has improved the nutrition profile of almost 70% of its US retail volume through initiatives like whole grain addition, and sodium and sugar reduction.

Healthcare companies like Aetna or WebMD are responding to consumer requests for better access to their medical records or more information about health issues and treatment options. Investing in healthy living initiatives also is an integral part of brand differentiation. For example, Nike helped launch a “Designed to Move” programme that involves sports associations, academic researchers and media to promote a message of movement worldwide.

Discovery, a South African-based financial services and health insurance company, launched “Vitality”, a health insurance offering with a new approach: paying customers for healthy behaviour. Vitality provides low-cost access to gyms and discounts on healthy foods, and rewards healthy behaviours with discounts on holidays, flights and consumer products.

The need for a healthy population and workforce has never been more urgent. If asked by your customers or employees, can you readily list your most attractive healthy living growth opportunities? Do you have a clear vision for how healthy living will shape your market and workforce? Are you clear about what capabilities you need to build?

The answers to these questions will be the front page news of tomorrow.

In a series of blog posts curated by the World Economic Forum’s Health Team, a number of leading voices present their perspectives on health and healthcare in the run-up to World Health Day on 7 April. 

Author: Norbert Hueltenschmidt is a Partner at Bain & Company and leads Bain’s Global Healthcare Practice

 Image: Organic vegetables are seen on a health food store in California REUTERS/Mike Blake