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Know your numbers

Alan McGrath
National Organiser, Health Stores Ireland

I'd like to know my actual blood sugar levels before rattling out my ramblings to you, but I'm going to have to trust my gut instead. I have misspent many minutes trying to blag a trial account from one of the numerous app-based blood-sugar readers, but to no avail. I've considered buying one of the finger-prick monitors designed for diabetics, but an aversion to self-harm and a reluctance to declare myself in a group to which I don't belong have prevented this. I do have several smart devices and wearables monitoring my heart rate, stress levels, blood oxygen and blood pressure though. The light on these is currently green for go.

While I may seem (and feel) a bit of a hypochondriac, I know I am far from alone. Back in the 70s "penny drop" weighing scales started appearing in traditional chemists throughout the country. This might have been the first step in the journey towards numbers-driven health. OTC cholesterol testers and urine PH strips followed in the noughties. Today, all the key vital statistics, and more, are measurable at home and this is having an impact on the way that people live, eat and shop.

At shopfloor level it is critical that all staff have a basic understanding of vital health statistics. When a customer discloses their resting heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar level, triglycerides levels or their target "Zone 5" heart rate on their 5km run, they don't want to see us glazing over or looking perplexed. Understanding these numbers is not something new to us, but the preponderance and perplexity of key health numbers, the growing willingness of people to share them and the expectation on us to understand them is only going to escalate and we need to be prepared.

The predicted trend towards single product personalised food supplementation hasn't really materialised and I'm declaring myself a doubter on this one, but the assortment of six different supplements which currently sit on my desk are a result of a combination of me knowing some of my own key numbers, a consultation with an empathetic and knowledgeable health store retailer and some double-checking online. I presume I'm not unusual and we can all assume that a growing number of people will be scoping out products, shopping and supplementing like this in the future.

Understanding the array of home diagnosing options, smart devices, and the implications of the information that they will be imparting is a challenge. There is always going to be a potential wholefood and lifestyle element to how we respond to these queries. Positioning ourselves to best apply good dietary advice, along with sensible supplementation, to someone reaming off vital health numbers, or offering to WhatsApp you a Garmin screenshot, is going to require some new skillsets and perhaps some targeted training.

This is all good news for a trusty specialist retailer who is up for the challenge and it's an evolving point of difference with multiples that we should probably embrace.

Health Stores Ireland is the professional trade association representing more than 110 independent health stores in Ireland. Visit, Facebook @HealthStoresIreland

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