The Future of Healthcare is Preventative

There’s a 50% chance you’ll die from a 100% preventable disease.

Laura Gao
7 min readOct 17, 2020

Update: Made a video! (2 min)

We’ve grown so accustomed to our current state of healthcare that it’s easy to forget how recent all the advancements were. Tuberculosis and smallpox were the main causes of deaths for centuries, and are now just commonplace names that hold no feelings. However, despite nearly eradicating those once deadly diseases with our current technology, the biggest causes of death worldwide today are caused by people eating too much.

You’d think that as someone living in the most advanced time that humanity has ever seen, it would be easy to avoid succumbing to death from a cause that is 100% preventable. You’d think that we’re better than that.

But then, why were half of the deaths in the 21st century due to heart disease and cancer, both preventable diseases?

The average American spends $100 a month on fast food. Photo by Sepet on Unsplash

Problem 1: Our Current Healthcare System

The focus in our current healthcare has long been centered around curing diseases after they appear, rather than preventing diseases from appearing.

Contrary to popular intuition, healthcare providers are not interested in your well being. Healthcare has been focused more on providing treatment than cures. The major players in healthcare aren’t incentivized, for example, to find a cure for cancer. Chemotherapy is a multi billion dollar industry, and if the 1.8 million of cancer patients in the U.S. were to be cured with a one time payment, all those chemo profits would evaporate.

But — that’s just the beginning. Treating diseases after they manifest will cost 5 times more than working towards preventing the diseases in the first place. That’s a 2.8 trillion dollar per year savings in the states alone. Sadly, that also means a lot less profit for big pharma — so there isn’t a big incentive to shift this focus.

Photo by Christina Victoria Craft on Unsplash

A focus on preventative healthcare will likely lead to an overall healthier population. Cutting your sugar intake to prevent diseases will be more effective than racking up a list of medical problems, ingesting a ton of chemicals to fix them, and then praying it’ll work out.

This is bad news for everyone who relies on their country’s healthcare system, the rest of us who aren’t making billions a year from drug sales. But — there’s something you can do. You have the power to control your own lifestyle, to make the decision that starting today I will eat healthier. Stick around to find out how 😉

Problem 2: The Instant Gratification Monkey

(aka lifestyle changes are hard to stick to)

He sure looks cute, but looks can be very deceiving. Source: WaitButWhy

We all know the bliss of biting into a bar of chocolate after a long day of work and instantly feeling the rush of dopamine washing your pain away.

But — the equation is not as simple as sugar tastes good but sugar bad for health. In our product driven society where companies are constantly pushing their goods onto you, it’s becoming increasingly harder to avoid the vexation of unhealthy food. Ever notice that all the candy bars are all placed near the checkout aisles of grocery stores? That’s to purposely appeal to the instant gratification centre of your brain, to make it as easy as possible for you to give into cravings.

The main reason why keeping a healthy lifestyle is hard is because it requires commitment. When you’re sick and you take medicine, you have an end in sight: In a week, this will go back to normal. Lifestyles, on the other hand, requires you to commit to a change for not just a week or a month or a year, but for essentially the rest of the foreseeable future.

There are many apps to track your nutrient intake by manually inputting. But for an average person, the process of trying to change your lifestyle would look something like this:

Keep reading to find out how you can overcome the difficulty of committing to lifestyle changes!

And then, it’s all back to square one.

Problem 3: Mixed Information

Whatever dedication you’ve had to eating healthier would all get evaporated after trying to learn about how to eat healthier. Some people say a calorie in is a calorie out, just make sure you burn more than you consume. Some talk about serving sizes for each food group. Some mention tracking your nutrients, and meeting a certain number of grams consumed per nutrient. Some talk about processed foods. Some say sugar is the real culprit. But natural sugar is not bad? If you don’t have much prior knowledge, it’s easy to get lost. You don’t know where to start, and on top of the fatigue from digging for hours, you no longer feel the motivation to eat healthier.

The Solution

If you live in the United States, there is a 1 in 2 chance that you’ll die from heart disease or cancer, both of which are preventable diseases with a bit of lifestyle shift. Your diet plays a big part in determining your likelihood of getting them.

Introducing Avocado — Snapchat for Food. 🥑

Avocado is a simple to use app that uses a convolutional neural network to classify images of meals and then give recommendations based on food groups.

Since one of the main problems is that it is hard to stick to a lifestyle change, our app’s goal is to make it as easy as possible.

Usually, a simple target will be easier to stay committed to. Counting calories or tracking nutrients takes a lot of effort and will be hard to stick to for longer periods of time.

Canada’s 2019 updated food guide achieves exactly this simplicity. Switched out from the serving sizes (that nobody counts) to what percentage of each food group you should eat: now it recommends 50% fruits and vegetables, 25% grains, and 25% proteins at every meal. The beauty of this food guide is how simple it is to follow: just make sure approximately half the food you eat is a fruit or vegetable and you’ll be fine. Furthermore, this ratio applies equally to all ages and genders.

Canada food guide’s recommendations for food groups

To use the app, the user will take a picture of their plate at every meal. Avocado will first cluster the items on the plate according to their food groups. Then, it’ll classify each cluster according to food group. By estimating the volume and mass of each cluster, the app will estimate the percentage of the meal that is each food group.

If I ate cereal and milk for breakfast, then had some spaghetti and meatballs for lunch, the app will simply tell me that I need more from the fruits and vegetable food group at dinner. It’s simple.

Classifying food groups with CNNs 😎

No, this app will not help you eat a perfect diet. It’s not meant to. The point of eating healthier is not to eat a perfect diet, but it’s to eat well consistently. For example, it is recommended you consume 25 grams of sugar per day. An average american consumes 200. If you cut your intake in half to 100 grams, that is far from perfect. But that will make a significant difference if you do it every day. Cutting to 100 grams per day and sticking to that for months will have a greater impact than trying to go for 25 then giving up after a week.

The same applies to food groups. The main diet problems generally come from eating too much grains and meat, and not enough fruits and vegetables. If this app helps you follow the recommended ratios in Canada’s food guide 2x better, it’ll have a significant impact on your health.

Furthermore, this app helps with Problem 3 by providing a clear guideline of what needs to be achieved, so that health conscientious consumers don’t need to dig through the weeds of the internet to find useful information.

“What proves that we really need this app is that before this, I had no clue what the food groups are.” — Edward Wang, Co-founder of Avocado

Main Takeaways

  1. The best way to fend off diseases (diseases responsible for killing 50% of the population!) is to prevent them from happening in the first place, through lifestyle changes.
  2. Consistent > perfect (in terms of how much impact a lifestyle change will have)
  3. Simplicity makes it easier to stick to a lifestyle change.

We all love dreaming about the future human longevity. But the key to extending a human lifespan to 150 years and beyond is not to have the best drugs or the best cures for diseases, but to maximise the health-span. Preventative healthcare is the future. 🦄