Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have pledged $3bn to fund research over the next decade as part of a goal to “cure, prevent or manage all diseases by the end of the century”.
This announcement gives me mixed emotions.
At a press conference in San Francisco, Mark Zuckerberg shared his concern that 50 times more money is spent on treating people who are sick than on curing the diseases that would stop them getting ill in the first place and added that this needs to change.
The thing that excites me is his desire to stop people getting sick in the first place. Prevention is ALWAYS better than cure.
In its report of the announcement, the BBC raise concern about the level of investment and wether or not it is enough, comparing it to spending by Cancer Research UK, The Wellcome Trust and the US National Institutes of Health. They point out that the National Institutes of Health alone spends more than 10 times this amount of money every single year.
This is not my area of concern. Let us remember that Mark Zuckerberg founded the world’s number one online social network with 1.59 billion users (currently valued at $350 billion) from his University dorm room. He has a track record in achieving something that before it happened would have seemed impossible. Many he can make that happen again.
What concerns me is the announcement appears to focus heavily on genetic science and vaccination.
Here is the crazy thing…
We already know the impact diet has on disease, we already now the impact lack of movement has on disease and we already know the impact our state of mind can have on disease.
We also already know a number of ways to improve our lifestyles to tackle the problem.
For example, a study published in 2014 by University College London analysed information from more than 65,000 adults aged 35 years or older, who responded to the Health Survey for England. The researchers followed up participants for an average of 7.7 years after their initial participation and found that people who ate seven or more portions of fruit or vegetables a day had a 33% reduced risk of death from any cause, a 25% reduced risk of death from cancer and a 31% reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease, compared with people who ate less than one portion per day
The answer to the rise of western diseases (such as obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease) is education and Facebook already has the perfect platform to spread this throughout the world.
Could Facebook impact our food choices?
Research from Columbia University in New York shows we that we make an average of 221 food decisions each day and we are unaware of 95% of them.
I believe that many of the food decisions we make unconsciously are driven by the food marketing we are exposed to.
In 2009 over $9.5 billion was spend on food marketing by 48 of the major US food and beverage companies, according to A Review of Food Marketing to Children and Adolescents published by the US Federal Trade Commission in December 2012. $1.8 billion of this was spend on marketing that specifically targeted the ‘youth’ market (children aged between 2 and 17 years of age).
The companies ordered to supply their information included Burger King Holdings, Inc., McDonald’s Corporation, Wendy’s International Inc., YUM! Brands (i.e., KFC Corporation, Long John Silver’s, Inc., Pizza Hut, Inc., and Taco Bell Corp.) and Doctor’s Associates, Inc. (Subway restaurants).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the greatest marketing spend was on ‘restaurant food’ (31% of total marketing and 40% of the youth marketing spend), followed by carbonated beverages (26% of total marketing and 22% of the youth marketing spend).
Marketing of fruits and vegetables equated to just 0.6% of the total marketing spend and 0.4% of the youth marketing spend.
Although this data is from the US, I suspect the percentage of spending is comparable anywhere in the western world.
With the way we are being bombarded with marketing messages about processed foods from such an early age, is it any surprise that we grow up eating them?
Recent research by Ohio State University shows children can be convinced to eat their greens if they are advertised in the same way as junk food.
I know this sounds like a simple idea, but what if Facebook started advertising fruits and vegetables in the way processed foods are marketed. I think Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan may already have the tools they need to make a huge impact in the prevention of disease.
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