Food as Medicine?

Food as Medicine?

I have family members with very different opinions on nutrition. Some of them have incorporated superfoods, such as kale and acai, into their diet and follow a strict regimen. And there are others who refuse to “follow a diet” because: (1) it requires them to give up some of their favorite foods and (2) they don’t always believe in the outcome. As such, I believe it’s important to take a data-driven approach towards healthy eating. People should not only know why certain foods are good for them, but this information should also be customized and actionable, based on each person’s microbiome, health and preferred eating habits. Hopefully, by providing a solution that is backed by science and tracks progress among users, people will come to embrace this idea of food as medicine.

The Problem & Market Opportunity:

About half of the U.S. adult population —117 million people—have chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, autoimmune disorders and various types of heart diseases 1. According to the Archives of Internal Medicine, 40-80% of these conditions can be traced back to our microbiome and are preventable by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle 2­. Microbiomes are a “community of bacteria” that live inside our bodies and are unique to each individual. They’re heavily shaped by the foods we eat and play an important role in keeping us healthy by absorbing nutrients, regulating our immune system and maintaining stable hormone levels. As such, we want a diverse gut flora and in the event that we lack certain microbes, we want personalized diets that give us a balanced composition. Unfortunately, many of us are not equipped with the knowledge of what our body needs and even when we do, we have trouble maintaining that sustenance for the following reasons:

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The Little Big Idea:

Yes, the meal subscription market is extremely saturated. But the problem outlined above is the reason why I believe there’s room for one more meal service that curates recipes based on people’s biomarkers, food preferences and health goals. By understanding each individual’s metabolism, genetics and even how one responds to carbs and protein, meal services like Habit are taking a science-based approach to optimizing nutrition 3, 4. However, a common criticism of these services (and food subscriptions in general) are their lack of flexibility. Imagine telling your family that you would’ve loved to join for Thai food, but instead, have to eat a pre-cooked meal from your fridge. As such, the ideal meal subscription – if it doesn’t become a logistical nightmare first – makes it easy for users to eat healthy regardless of setting. It does this by giving users the choice of: a) making meals thru personalized recipes, b) heating up pre-cooked meals and/or c) receiving menu recommendations at local restaurants.

How Does It Work:

  1. Users fill out their profile and receive a genetic testing kit with instructions for collecting biological samples (e.g. saliva and stool).
  2. Samples are sent back to a lab and tested for genetic variants and biomarkers.
  3. The composition and diversity of users’ gut microbiomes are profiled and an algorithm will predict what foods are good for each user.
  4. Users receive a personalized report with tailored recommendations (e.g. ideal meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner) and information on how their bodies respond to food.
  5. Users mark off their calendars to customize their weekly mix of meal options (e.g. at-home cooking, ready-to-eat meal kits and/or restaurant items).
  6. Users receive ongoing tips and track progress through recommended metrics.

Are there similar ideas out there for you to check out?

  • DayTwo provides personalized dietary plans that allows you “to live healthier and maintain normal blood sugar levels”.
  • Vitagene provides tailored diet, exercises and supplements based on your genetic testing results

As always, I’d love to hear what my readers think! Do any of you currently use tools/services to help you eat healthy? If so, what do you like or dislike about them?

Sources: 1 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015-2020), 2 Fight Chronic Disease, 3 Habit (How It Works), 4 Habit (Our Science)

The World Cup and its Impact on Host Countries

The World Cup and its Impact on Host Countries

In the run-up to each World Cup, countries seeking to host the tournament often talk about benefits to be gained. For instance, Russia claimed that this year’s World Cup will boost its economy by up to $31B over the 10-year period between 2013 and 2023 1. After all, how else do host countries – Qatar (2022) and Canada-U.S.-Mexico (2026) included – justify spending billions of dollars on infrastructure and new stadiums? Since these investments are government-financed (and coming out of taxpayers’ pockets), one theory is that it’s a politically-charged, self-promotion tactic, designed to boost national pride and rally the people in support of an event that puts the spotlight on the country 2, 4. While analyses done on previous host countries are not exact and vary based on each country’s economic state, maturity level (i.e. developed versus emerging markets) and cultural attitude toward soccer, they generally show that there’s limited direct financial gain from hosting the World Cup. However, there are other intangible sources of positive impact, such as improved wellbeing of its citizens due to better infrastructure and international perception of the host country. As such, let’s take a step back and provide a more comprehensive, impact assessment of the World Cup using the framework below:

  1. Direct Profitability (from / during the World Cup)
  • Increase in Tourism Revenue (e.g. Hotels, Attractions, Restaurants, Nightlife, etc.)
  • Increase in Expenses (e.g. stadiums, public transportation, security)

FIFA emerges as the real winner through revenues generated from broadcast rights, sponsorships and ticket sales ($4.8B in 2014 and an expected $6B in 2018) 3. On the other hand, host countries rely on increased employment and consumer spending (during the construction phase) and increased tourism (during the event) – both of which are hard to measure due to opportunity costs and crowding out effects 2.

As an example, Brazil and Russia spent $15B and $11.8B, respectively, on projects for the tournament and in doing so, created hundreds of thousands of jobs 3, 4. However, these jobs are mostly “temporary”, with many of the stadiums left unused after the event. Furthermore, it’s difficult to assess whether that money would be better spent elsewhere 2. After all, funneling public funds towards the World Cup means reducing other public services, such as training and educational programs, which may have contributed more to the country’s GDP 5, 7.

With respect to tourism, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil provided $13.2B in revenues from soccer fans who travelled to the country specifically for the event 6. However, this barely covers the costs that went into preparing for the tournament. Furthermore, it “crowds out” regular visitors who have no interest in the sport and thus, may choose not to come during that time 2, 7. As such, how much “additional” tourism dollars does the tournament really bring?

  1. Long-Term Economic Impact (after the World Cup)
  • International Perception of the host country
  • Business Alliances (potentially attract investments from foreign companies)
  • Employment

Hosting the World Cup, allows emerging countries to showcase their greatness and demonstrate that they deserve a seat at the “superpowers” table 8, 12. In addition to political benefits, there’s the anticipation of investments from business leaders 13. Research from UC-Berkeley shows that countries hosting the Olympics experience an increase in trade, which in turn translates into increased employment 10. Nevertheless, the same study also shows similar increases for countries who’ve made losing bids, which calls into question whether the outcome was ever a result of hosting the event or if simply entering the bid (and therefore signaling one’s capacity to host) is enough 10.

  1. Other
  • Overall wellbeing of its citizens due to better infrastructure and improved employment
  • Feel-good effect

Beyond stadiums, host countries also invest in public infrastructure (i.e. roads and transportation systems) that benefit citizens and lead to productivity in the long-run 9. Unfortunately, this is often overshadowed by pictures of abandoned stadiums built without a sustainable purpose in mind. Which brings up that opportunity cost question again: could the spending have yielded better results elsewhere?

Perhaps one of the most underestimated impacts of the World Cup is its feel-good effect on residents 2, 11. The host population often feel an immense sense of unity and national pride due to the prestige associated with hosting such a large, global event 8. This results in increased topics of conversation during the tournament, as well as improved wellbeing, as stories of triumph can inspire more kids to partake in the sport 5, 11.

Needless to say, there are many quantitative and qualitative factors that go into assessing the impact of the World Cup on host countries. While statistics suggest that there’s hardly any immediate economic gain from the tournament, there may be benefits that are either realized after a longer time period or are intangible. After all, for some countries, the “prestige” that comes with hosting the World Cup is priceless. In these situations, a positive perception of the country, along with improved diplomatic relations and national pride, justifies the net loss 8. One area worth exploring further is, based on the framework above, how and why do certain types of host countries benefit more than others? For instance, developed countries like the U.S. (1994) and Germany (2006), have fared better, because with good infrastructure systems and some stadiums already in place, their spending was less than those of others 5, 10. As such, it’d be interesting to find other patterns and factors that impact the success of a host country. Perhaps doing that will help countries make more informed decisions around whether or not they should host.

Sources:

1 http://www.espn.com/soccer/fifa-world-cup/story/3471440/russia-predicts-world-cup-will-have-%2431-billion-economic-impact

2 http://pitjournal.unc.edu/article/assessing-long-term-economic-impacts-world-cup-mega-sport-event

3 https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/14/the-business-of-the-world-cup–who-makes-money-and-how-much.html

4 http://www.businessinsider.com/fifa-brazil-world-cup-revenue-2015-3

5 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/world-cup-football-smart-investment-russia-host/

6 https://theurbantwist.com/2017/10/18/brazil-world-cup-affect-brazilian-economy/

7 https://psmag.com/economics/is-there-any-real-economic-benefit-to-hosting-a-world-cup

8 http://etd.cput.ac.za/bitstream/handle/20.500.11838/1628/208127992_visser_sd_mtech_sport_bus_2015.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

9 https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=3609&context=honors_theses

10 https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/10/magazine/does-hosting-the-olympics-actually-pay-off.html

11 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/46526400_Economic_Impacts_of_the_FIFA_Soccer_World_Cups_in_France_1998_Germany_2006_and_Outlook_for_South_Africa_2010

12 https://www.spectator.co.uk/2018/01/for-putin-the-world-cup-is-not-about-football-but-global-respect/

13 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/06/what-the-gold-rush-in-chinese-football-teaches-us-about-globalization/

Where does all the money go? How Blockchain can help the Non-Profit Sector become more transparent.

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Donations are like a black hole. On several occasions, nonprofits have reached out to me for donations without telling me how much of my money goes towards projects they’re “supporting” as opposed to management salary, fundraising and other overhead expenses. Because few non-profits provide this information, choosing worthy causes becomes a challenge. As an example, Kids Wish Network, a charity that grants wishes to children who are battling life-threatening illnesses, raised $18.6M in 2012 and spent only $240K (a little over 1%) granting wishes 1. Kids Wish Network still exists today and is among the 50 worst charities in the U.S. that devote less than 4% of donations to their causes 1. Restoring donor trust and ensuring that donation dollars are being put to their best use, is an important matter. And that’s where blockchain technology comes in. By only processing donations to charities that meet specific criteria and tracking how donations are spent, blockchain can enhance accountability and governance within the philanthropy sector.

Key Industry Highlights:

  • In 2017, $390 billion was donated to >1M nonprofits in the U.S 2.
  • The average program efficiency ratio (% of donations that go directly to the charitable purpose) in 2017 was 87% 3. According to charity watchdogs, such as Wise Giving Alliance, no financially-responsible charity should have a ratio lower than 65% 3.
  • A poll conducted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy in 2015 indicated that 1/3 of Americans believe that charities spend funds irresponsibly. And “35 percent said they had little or no confidence in charities” 4.

A Little Big Idea:

All incoming and outgoing cash flows in nonprofits should be in the form of a traceable, digital currency (i.e. Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency) recorded on the blockchain through a platform that does the following:

  • Provide an audit trail of how donations at both the individual and aggregate level are spent. By having a nonprofit’s donors, recipients, employees and vendors/partners interact on either a public or semi-private blockchain, there will be an immutable record of how donations funnel down to the end recipient. Each time a cryptocurrency donation gets converted into a local currency (i.e. when a nonprofit converts 40% of its Bitcoin donations to USD in order to cover payroll and buy necessary supplies for its projects), that information is recorded by the platform. Subsequently, the nonprofit can also upload receipts and evidence to confirm their spending.
  • Track donations against milestones and provide notifications to donors on progress. (i.e. Kerry’s donation of $10K led to the completion of a new well in Kenya!)
  • Leverage smart contracts that can facilitate goal-based funding. Given an objective function, Kerry can set up donations that satisfy how it is she wants her money to be spent. For instance, she can customize her recurring, yearly donations such that they don’t go through unless the nonprofit maintains a program efficiency ratio of at least 80%. In addition, a subsequent donation will not be made until her previous donation resulted in a known outcome.

BlockChain for Philanthropy

Who does this benefit?

Donors
  • Increased transparency
  • Ability to know how their donations are being used
Non-Profits
  • Increase in donor trust can lead to increased giving
  • Reduce costs; eliminates transfer fees by processing transactions to happen without an intermediary (i.e. bank or central authority)
  • Mitigate financial risks, such as corruption and fraud committed by partners 5. When nonprofits collaborate with other organizations to obtain materials and services that are necessary for the completion of a project, setting up payments that will only be processed once contractual work is finished reduces the possibility of fraud.
  • Enhances coordination between different charities, allowing funds to be transferred automatically once they complete the part of the project they’re responsible for.

Are there similar ideas out there? 

There have been many recent developments that leverage blockchain for philanthropy 6:

Crypto Fundraising –

  • BitHope is a crowdfunding platforms (think Kickstarter) that allows people to make Bitcoin donations to charities of their choice 7.

Crypto Tracking –

  • GiveTrackAlice and AidCoin all offer platforms that can track donations through their life cycles, from donor to donee. However, they’re still in early stages and while GiveTrack was founded by a 501c3 nonprofit called Bitgive, it is unclear how much Alice and AidCoin – which seem to operate on a for-profit model – will charge as commission. Ideally, the platform should be run as a non-profit and only collect a % enough to sustain and improve itself. GiveTrack, currently in beta version, collects donations in the form of Bitcoin and tracks how they’re spent by maintaining a record of transactions in which the Bitcoin either exchanges hands or is converted into local currency 8. Alice and AidCoin are both powered by the Ethereum blockchain 9, but AidCoin uses its own cryptocurrency to track the flow of donations 10,11, which gives rise to exchange risks and uncertainties around its value.

Challenges / Risks:

Realistically, it would take years before all nonprofits – let alone, a single non-profit – has all of their cash flows recorded on the blockchain. For this to happen, there needs to be widespread adoption of blockchain by all counterparties that a nonprofit engages with. Right now, less than 8% of Americans own cryptocurrencies 12 because a) they’re not easy for the average consumer to use (you can’t buy items at the store with Bitcoin yet), b) their value is unpredictable and c) the process of buying cryptocurrencies isn’t very straightforward 13. Nevertheless, people’s mentality towards cryptocurrencies may be different when it’s purchased for philanthropy and for the purpose of introducing traceability and trust (rather than for speculative and investment reasons). Furthermore, any concerns that donors have on how a drop in Bitcoin value has on non-profits’ ability to deliver impact, opens the door for more creative solutions, such as hedge products.

Sources:

1 https://www.cnn.com/2013/06/13/us/worst-charities/index.html

2 https://www.forbes.com/top-charities/#205ffb6276ab

3 https://www.forbes.com/sites/williampbarrett/2017/12/13/analyzing-a-charity-before-giving/

4 https://www.philanthropy.com/article/1-in-3-Americans-Lacks-Faith/233613

5 https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2018/04/25/blockchain-is-reestablishing-trust-in-nonprofits/#57f25c577916

6 https://cointelegraph.com/news/how-cryptocurrency-and-blockchain-are-changing-philanthropy-expert-take

7 https://bithope.org/what-is-bithope

8 https://www.givetrack.org/docs/faq/basics

http://donationsapp.alice.si/#/how-it-works/main

10 https://www.aidcoin.co/assets/documents/whitepaper.pdf?v=3.18.4

11 https://medium.com/aidcoin/aidcoin-bringing-blockchain-technology-to-the-charity-sector-e7ce77380d83

12 https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/16/why-just-8-percent-of-americans-are-invested-in-cryptocurrencies-.html

13 https://www.finder.com/why-people-arent-buying-cryptocurrency