In a $1.5 trillion industry where every other company seems to want to sell you a “wellness” product or service, who can you trust? That’s the question that Wellness Access Institute (WAI) wants to answer – in part to help customers make informed decisions, but also to support companies bringing truly useful products to market.
Founded earlier this year by Greg Macpherson and Warren Liu, WAI aims to help the industry, its regulators and consumers better understand what a focus on wellness could achieve. Despite clear benefits to people’s health – ultimately the ability to live longer – policymakers are not providing the broad support that the welfare sector needs, WAI argues. Notably, there are too many barriers standing in the way of innovation.
“First, there is the issue of trust and transparency in the industry – how we create a stronger bond between the science and the customer,” says Liu. “Next, we want to address the speed of innovation and accessibility for ordinary people. Real solutions to today’s health and well-being problems can be accelerated by solving those challenges and creating frameworks for education and access to knowledge to support health and well-being.”
WAI is considering establishing a trade association, financed by the welfare sector, but independent of it. It would pursue initiatives such as certifications for products properly backed by science-based and real-world evidence, helping companies build trust. It also plans to launch a WAI accelerator program, connecting industry innovators and entrepreneurs with leaders in areas such as supply chain, marketing and R&D.
The organization will operate as a nonprofit, Liu explains, and will become self-funding over time through fees for memberships, certifications, and other services. All excess cash generated is reinvested in the organization and its programs.
Both Macpherson and Liu have a long track record in wellness and preventive health and previously collaborated on a supplement brand designed to help people manage the aging process. Building that brand required overcoming some frustrating challenges, which the duo discovered were common when talking to others in the industry.
“Breakfast innovations get stuck in the lab,” says Liu. “Real solutions don’t get to the people who can benefit fast enough, or sometimes not at all. And even when products are commercialized, they are sometimes too expensive or not widely available.”
Macpherson argues that WAI can help organizations break through some of those barriers, benefiting everyone. “An urgent paradigm shift is needed if we are to sustainably support an aging population and improve our collective and individual health as we age,” he says. “WAI aims to accelerate our understanding of and access to wellness and wellness innovation in a way that is trusted and available to everyone.”
To get a head start on those goals, WAI has appointed an advisory board made up of eight prominent wellness leaders. They include Aubrey Levitt, founder of microbiome start-up Postbiotics Plus, Dr. Matt Yousefzadeh, a prolific contributor on wellness to scientific publications, and Michael Heinam, who works on patent applications and contracts with leading universities.
“It’s not just businessmen and scientists trying to create new products to sell,” Liu added. “It’s an open dialogue and vision-shaping agenda that involves people at every stage of the journey; it starts with making knowledge of the most important factors for well-being accessible to everyone.”
WAI points to fundamental misunderstandings among consumers, built up over many years, as evidence of the need for an organization to promote education and awareness. For example, the idea of ”eating your green” is based on an outdated campaign and overlooks fruits and vegetables of different colors.
Ultimately, WAI’s founders believe that if they can help innovators make high-quality new products available more quickly, and give consumers the help and understanding to recognize such products, there is great potential for better health outcomes. “The benefits of health and longevity programs have never been more apparent,” argues Liu.
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