Video chats? Just sign into Skype. Flying cars? Not so much. Scientists, novelists, and filmmakers love to predict the future, though sometimes those prophecies can be a little unrealistic. Here at Greatist, we’ve highlighted 24 of the most exciting innovations to come in health and fitness, from gourmet printers to eco-friendly commuting. Check back in a few years to see how we did— and let us know if those airborne automobiles have arrived yet!
1. 3-D meal-printing. Just don’t salivate on the computer: Engineers at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed the “Digital Fabricator Concept,” a prototype for a machine that prints three-dimensional meals. An electronic Ratatouille, the printer whips up hot and cold dishes that correspond to users’ specific nutritional requirements. One order of PB&J? Talk about a printer jam.
2. Full-frontal nutrition labels. No need to read the fine print— food labels are getting user-friendly. The Institute of Medicine recently recommended a new labeling system, with all the deets on calories, serving size, fat, sodium, and sugar on the front of packages. Turns out that box of Entenmann’s does not qualify as a balanced meal.
3. Edible bugs. Waiter, there’s a cockroach in my soup— and it’s delicious! As people turn to more eco-friendly food practices, bugs may one day be an American dinnertime staple. For one thing, it’s cheaper and more efficient to produce a gaggle of grasshoppers than it is to ship a truckload of beef. Plus, people in non-Western countries have been lunching on locusts for years. Now, eating boogers? Still universally gross.
4. Clinical taste testing. Pretty soon, a tongue depressor won’t be the only thing patients taste at regular medical checkups. Researchers are currently working to develop clinical tests that determine sensitivity to different tastes, like bitterness and sweetness. Test results could help patients create personalized nutrition plans (and maybe even a gag-free depressor).
5. More cage-free eggs. Free-range and organic hens have more freedom to walk and spread their wings than their pals in battery cages. Recently certain universities and restaurant chains have started selling cage-free eggs. Among state governments, California’s leading the trend with plans to sell only cage-free eggs by 2015. Though cage-free cuisine isn’t any more nutritious, animal rights advocates can feel like good eggs when they buy a dozen.
Work & Travel
6. Sit-stand workstations. Offices will soon be a sea of bobbleheads— healthy ones, that is. Recent research has linked a sedentary lifestyle to a slew of health issues, like weight gain, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. To prevent these problems, some offices have already implemented sit-stand workstations, which allow users to adjust desk height, alternately sitting and standing throughout the day.
7. Biking to work. Briefcase? Check. Helmet? Check! As bike-sharing programs pop up in cities throughout the USA, folks are getting easier access to spokes, staying fit and keeping it green. Researchers see biking as a way to not only whip people into shape, but also to save the planet by reducing air pollution.
8. Airplane lights that prevent jet lag. H.G. Wells made it look cool, but in reality traveling through time (zones) can be a real bummer. Recently, an airplane that flies from the USA to Asia rolled out high-tech LED bulbs designed to help prevent jet lag in passengers. If the technology catches on, world travelers can rest easy knowing they won’t face a sudden bout of narcolepsy while touring the Louvre.
9. Football helmets that reduce concussions. Get knocked down and get back up again, without losing brain cells. In May 2011, Virginia Tech rated different helmets designed to reduce the risk of concussion on the football field. Some Virginia Tech players are sporting the headgear already; everyone else can pay a pretty penny for some brain protection of their own.
10. Clothing that regulates body temperature. It’s getting hot in here, so… put on all your clothes? Sportswear companies are selling threads that offer weather protection and temperature management. Soon it’ll be possible to run like the wind, and in it, too. Looks like we’ll have to find a new reason not to exercise in a snowstorm.
11. Hi-tech gear for all. LeBron’s not the only one who gets an all-star workout. In the next few years, fitness trainers will start giving the general public the pro treatment, according to trainer Noam Tamir. The ViPR’s a good example: It’s a training tool designed to improve coordination, speed, and agility. And the Alter-G anti-gravity treadmill allows athletes to decrease the amount of body weight they run with. Guess professional athletes aren’t so fancy, huh?
Kids & Education
12. Better school lunches. Shrimp and scallop ceviche may be unrealistic, but it’s likely the next few years will bring big changes in the way kids eat in public schools. While Congress voted down the latest proposal to improve school lunches in November 2011, the U.S. Agriculture Department has been pushing to change the nutritional requirements for years. Maybe they’ll also have to break the news that pizza doesn’t count as a vegetable.
13. Physically active kids. Between initiatives like NFL Play60 and Let’s Move, professional athletes and political figures are already making an effort to keep kids fit. The rents are doing their part, too. And as kids start hustlin’ every day, scary statistics on childhood obesity will probably improve as well.
14. More comprehensive sex ed. Break out the banana condoms. Right now many U.S. high schools offer abstinence-only sex education, while other programs are pretty limited. But some schools are spicing up sex ed with frank discussions about gender, relationships, and sexuality. There are even services that allow teens to LOL at the answers to questions about sexual health. And, starting in 2012, all New York City public school students will be required to take a sex ed course. Drugs and rock n’ roll optional.
15. More allergy diagnoses. The Boy in the Bubble: coming to a real family near you. Recent research suggests allergies are more common than doctors once believed. And wheat’s become a notorious bad guy, as doctors are diagnosing more people with gluten intolerance. Clinical researcher Dr. Douglas Kalman predicts an increase in research on products for supposed food allergies as well as research on substantive allergies, like food intolerances and localized animal allergies. Is there an allergy to sticking to New Year’s Resolutions? Some of us might have that one.
16. Hi-tech health care. Nearly 26 million Americans suffer from diabetes— but how many of them have smartphones? In June 2011, AT&T launched DiabetesManager, a program that lets people with diabetes upload info like blood sugar levels and photos of wounds and submit them to their physicians for immediate review. According to Dr. Sherry Pagoto, in the next few years, patients will likely be able to use digital technology to get real-time professional feedback for a variety of other health problems.
17. Virus killer. An apple a day? So passé. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory have created a drug that can supposedly kill cells infected with any virus, including influenza and the common cold. Right now they’re testing the drug on mice, and ultimately hope to run trials on larger animals and humans.
18. Mind-reading software. Big Brother, beware: Scientists at the University of California Berkeley have developed technology that reconstructs the images in people’s brains. The machine may help doctors treat people like stroke victims and coma patients who can’t communicate verbally. It may also allow paralyzed patients to control computers with their minds. Let’s just hope they can’t see us dreaming of stress reduction during the workday.
19. Videoconferencing therapy. Here’s one way to overcome boundaries. Recently, videoconferencing has become more popular among psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals. Using web services like Skype, patients can get immediate help from a therapist miles away. (Hopefully the problem isn’t a technology addiction.) Videoconferencing may improve mental health treatment particularly in rural areas where there aren’t as many psychologists as in cities.
20. Patient-centered medical homes. Treatment for health issues may soon be a one-stop shop. Today, patient-centered medical homes integrate different types of health care, like physical and mental health treatment. Current medical homes are especially useful for patients with conditions like asthma, diabetes, and congestive heart failure. As medical homes develop over the next few years, they may help patients with a variety of other health problems as well. After all, there’s no place like (a medical) home.
21. Gray hair pill. Rapunzel, Rapunzel, your hair is still blonde? By 2015, drugstores may feature a relative fountain of youth: a pill from L’Oreal that keeps the color in those locks. Apparently, the pill only works before hair has actually started graying. And some docs worry the pill could be dangerous, so perhaps it’s safer to take a tip from Nicki Minaj.
22. Cure for Alzheimer’s. Recent discoveries prompt scientists to believe a cure for Alzheimer’s is possible. Still, some researchers are skeptical doctors will find a way to prevent the disease. Whether or not Alzheimer’s is curable, within the next century, scientists will learn more about risk factors and possible treatments for the condition.
23. HIV prevention. Researchers are currently testing different methods to prevent HIV in the populations most at risk for the virus. One hundred years from now, there may be effective ways to reduce global rates of infection.
24. Remedy for heartbreak. It got the best of Mariah Carey, but scientists may find a way to get rid of heartbreak. Studies show there’s a biological component to getting over what’s-their-name, and there may one day be a medical treatment for a broken heart. (Though cookie dough and Alanis Morissette will likely still work.)
Image Courtesy of Marcel Coelho and Amit Zoran
What kinds of changes do you hope to see in the future of health and fitness? Tell us in the comments below!