17 Health: 'We'll feel less healthy'
An overweight woman in Maryland, USA. Photograph: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images Health systems are generally quite conservative. That's why the more radical forecasts of the recent past haven't quite materialised. Contrary to past predictions, we don't carry smart cards packed with health data; most treatments aren't genetically tailored; and health tourism to Bangalore remains low. But for all that, health is set to undergo a slow but steady revolution. Life expectancy is rising about three months each year, but we'll feel less healthy, partly because we'll be more aware of the many things that are, or could be, going wrong, and partly because more of us will be living with a long-term condition.
We'll spend more on health but also want stronger action to influence health. The US Congressional Budget Office forecasts that US health spending will rise from 17% of the economy today to 25% in 2025 and 49% in 2082. Their forecasts may be designed to shock but they contain an important grain of truth. Spending on health and jobs in health is bound to grow.
Some of that spending will go on the problems of prosperity – obesity, alcohol consumption and injuries from extreme sports. Currently fashionable ideas of "nudge" will have turned out to be far too weak to change behaviours. Instead, we'll be more in the realms of "shove" and "push", with cities trying to reshape whole environments to encourage people to walk and cycle.
By 2030, mental health may at last be treated on a par with physical health. Medicine may have found smart drugs for some conditions but the biggest impact may be achieved from lower-tech actions, such as meditation in schools or brain gyms for pensioners.
Healthcare will look more like education. Your GP will prescribe you a short course on managing your diabetes or heart condition, and when you get home there'll be an e-tutor to help you and a vast array of information about your condition.