Chronic Disease on the Catwalk

Chronic disease plagues personal lives and public policy. Sheer numbers only begin to give a glimpse of the associated suffering, cost and scope of the problem. In the United States there are more than 110 million Americans with a chronic disease. Europeans are not far behind. According to the World Health Organization, the chronic disease burden in Europe is now the leading cause of mortality and morbidity. Diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, just to name a few, pose a growing challenge to populations throughout Asia-Pacific, Africa and South America.

As the world’s population ages and the number of older adults multiplies we can anticipate growth in the rate as well as the number of people with chronic diseases such as arthritis and hypertension. We will also see growth in diseases that are only now receiving broader public attention, e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, depression, even some types of cancers that are being redefined as a chronic condition.

Will chronic disease become so prevalent that it becomes the new normal? It just might and here are some early indications. Disease, or rather the number of people managing one condition or more, is now a large enough market to influence the design and fashion industries to develop new medically-inspired products. For example: Bang & Olufsen the Danish, high-end design company invested in Medicom. Bang & Olufsen Medicom designs and manufactures intelligent compliance devices for asthma and diabetes. Not surprisingly, their inhalers and glucometers are anything but ordinary.  Medicom claims they seek to use intelligent technology such as smart devices that connect via bluetooth to the internet/cloud and elegant design to motivate and even “inspire” both physician and patient while reminding and encouraging compliance. Medicom’s injection systems and pill boxes appear to be more like stylish desk ornaments  than tools to treat a chronic medical condition. Medically-inspired yet fashionable products to manage disease and well-being are going mainstream.

A quick trip to stores such as Brookstone shows the growing demand for products to treat the maladies of stress, fatigue and pain. Some Apple stores already have third-party stylish iPod-ready devices to monitor blood pressure, pulse rate, etc. Glasses are no longer thought of as vision correctors, instead they have become a fashion accessory. Mainstreaming disease and producing products that are fashion statements may be dismissed by many as a waste of money or in poor taste given the dire impact of disease on people and economies.  However, given the suffering as well as economic cost of the chronic disease challenge, maybe it’s not a bad thing if we can look a little cooler along the way.