Health & Wellness Going to the Dogs

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I’m as confused as the next person about what I should be eating and drinking. Is red meat good for me, or not? Will coffee and beer make me die young, or give me super powers (I’m really, really hoping for the latter, as I’ve been training hard)? It seems like every day there’s another article about what is or isn’t good for me, and it just adds to my confusion.

I’m hoping to wake up in the world of Woody Allen’s 1973 movie Sleeper, where steak, cream pies, and hot fudge provide the clearest path to good health. But I fear it will be more like the world suggested by David B. Allison, professor at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, who says to the Washington Post, “We know that you can’t live without food, and that if you eat too much, you get fat…After that the knowledge base gets thinner and thinner.”

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The Things You Fear Most

I’ll admit, overall I’m pretty fortunate, health-wise. I mainly feel good (if occasionally I feel my age). I’ve managed to avoid most (though not all) klutzy accidents…or maybe it’s just that I’m not suffering currently, and that I’ve managed to block out all the prior bad acts from my memory. I can still beat my 14-year old son at basketball (in the interest of full disclosure, he can now crush me in any type of running race).

But never fear, I’ve discovered other health-related maladies to worry about…from diabetes to cancers to dementia. And the scary part (for me at least) is that although companies are developing medicines to try to treat these ailments once they start, the best “cure” is actually to make choices that prevent them from happening in the first place.

Many food manufacturers have tried to step into that void, offering foods that promise heart health, or mental acuity, or bone and joint health. And I’ll offer that I’m grateful for their concern. I also don’t doubt that some of their offers reflect the current science of the day (which may or may not be the science of tomorrow). But I’m also not entirely convinced that eating a given granola bar every day for the next 20 years, or eating an avocado a day, will build the road to my salvation. And I just haven’t seen most of the CPG manufacturers (I’m generalizing, to be clear) put in the 10 to 20 years of research that might be required to prove or disprove their notions of preventative health.

Start Dogging It

That’s why I was so taken aback when I read an article recently that Eukanuba’s dog food may enable our canine friends to live 30% longer. And it wasn’t so much the claim itself, there are all kinds of unsupportable health claims floating around (have you been to your neighborhood GNC store lately?). It’s the fact that they invested in a 10-year study to make the point.

And they learned a couple of really interesting things; things I wish someone would learn about humans:

  • Ninety percent of the dogs in the study lived beyond the typical lifespan of their breed.
  • Twenty-eight percent lived at least 30 percent longer than their typical lifespan – in other words, if they were expected to live 10 years, they actually lived 13 or more years.

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Think about that in human terms. That would suggest if my life expectancy was 80 years, almost a third of people who followed the regimen would live to be 104. Holy cow! For those kinds of results, I would drink a wheat grass and quinoa smoothie three times a day for the rest of my life.

Do note that I am taking the results of the study at face value, and I recognize that there is sometimes a danger in doing that. I’m a researcher, so I always want to question the methodology. And I’m not naïve to the role that study funding can sometimes play in study outcomes. That said, it’s still a 10-year study, with results the company is willing to risk getting sued over, so they certainly must think they are onto something.

What It Means to Be a Health and Wellness Company

In my mind, Eukanuba (now owned by Mars Petcare) is the definition of a health and wellness brand (if not a health and wellness company). This is actually straddling the line between nutritionand medicine.  It also reflects the fact that preventative health is longitudinal, not medicinal. Often we have to engage in a given behavior for an extended period of time (and without any evident symptoms of a given disease, that may or may not ever afflict us) to gain those preventative benefits. And to prove that a given behavior or regimen is effective, companies have to study it for that same extended period.

With Nestlé, Wal-Mart, and virtually every other packaged goods company or retailer proclaiming that they are a health and wellness company, Eukanuba actually provides a model for them to follow. Yes, make your products natural. Yes, clean labels / simple ingredients matter. But those things are quickly becoming table stakes. The company that ultimately wins is the one that embraces the long-term R&D ethos over the short-term returns. It’s a risk-reward game, and companies will have to place some bets and be willing to lose occasionally to win in the long-run.

And in the meantime, may your canine friends live long and prosper.  Thanks, Eukanuba!