Navigating the Coronavirus Era

I’ll have to be honest. When I first heard about the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Wuhan in January, I didn’t think it would escalate and result in countries around the world scrambling for a way to mitigate the spread. Being “far away” from the epicenter made me feel disconnected and a part of me felt hopeful that COVID-19 could be contained before getting out of hand. After all, we’ve made it through SARS back in 2003 and MERS in 2012, both of which had higher fatality rates. But things are different from back then. We’re dealing with a different virus and in this day and age, “far away” isn’t really far away. As much as we benefit from globalization, we’re also feeling its full effect through COVID-19’s rapid spread, the deep interdependence between major economies, and how vulnerable we all are to unexpected shocks.

Right now, what we’re living through feels like something out of a movie, but at least we are all in it together.

Across the country, major cities including San Francisco, New York City and Seattle have issued stay-at-home orders to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of the virus. Schools and all non-essential businesses have been asked to close. Major events, such as SXSW, have been cancelled, and almost everyone I know is working from home.

San Francisco, where I currently live, was the first to order a shelter-in-place almost 2 weeks ago. What this means is I’m barred from gathering outside, but I can leave the house for “essential activities”, such as grocery shopping and going to the doctor. Most restaurants in my neighborhood have closed their doors, but a few have kept their delivery and takeout services up and running. People can also walk and exercise outside in public spaces, as long as they stay 6 feet away from others.

These measures are imperative for the health and safety of our nation, although devastating for our economy. This week’s uptick after the signing of a historic $2T stimulus package does not make up for the fact that the stock market has wiped out nearly 3 years of gains. Small businesses, the airline and hospitality industries are all suffering major losses and that extends downstream to the now 3 million+ workers whose jobs have been cut. My roommate, a marketing manager at a local restaurant chain, recently received an email regarding employment termination if the doors do not reopen by April 7th.

So yes, COVID-19 is very real and it can get personal. Even if it hasn’t turned your world upside down just yet, it is leaving people without an income and ability to provide for themselves and their families.

So please, let’s all do our part by following the social distancing guidelines, staying at home, and limiting the time outside to truly essential activities. With COVID-19’s incubation being anywhere from 2 to 14 days, we can be asymptomatic for a while and spread the virus to others without knowing. This community spread is what puts our healthcare system at risk. There are simply not enough beds, ICUs, ventilators for everyone and having to choose between which sick patient should receive care, is the last thing we want to do.

For those in the less-vulnerable category who underestimate the virus and call it “just another flu” (yes, I’m looking at you springbreakers), now’s the time to get serious. Staying at home is a small sacrifice compared to what our seniors and elderly have gone through (e.g., serving our country during World War II) or what our medical workers are doing each day to save lives. I know we’re all coping and adjusting to life under quarantine, but.. hey, we’re all in this together!

How are all of you doing during this time?

I’ll be checking in every now and then to post updates from SF, but until then, please stay safe and healthy!

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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)

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