New research from the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) has revealed that for every $800 annual increase in wellness expenditures per person, happiness levels increase by seven percent and life expectancy increases by 1.26 years.

The findings bolster the case for wellness policy, the subject of the GWI’s groundbreaking new report “Defining Wellness Policy,” the first research to define, and argue why, wellness is a much needed government’s backed priority.

As consumer spending on wellness has exploded into a multi-trillion market, a study from the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) raises key questions: Is this spending on wellness improving people’s well-being and physical and mental health?

New research released by the Global Wellness Institute gives a positive answer. The findings, as part of GWI’s report, “Defining Wellness Policy,” make a compelling argument as to why it is needed.

The report explains how wellness policy can complement –but also fill – the glaring gaps left by both current public health policy and new happiness and well-being policy efforts. It also addresses the gaps in the sick-care-focused medical system and in the private sector wellness industry, that clearly cannot bring wellness to all.

The report includes the first-ever quantitative analysis that determines the relationship between wellness spending, health outcomes, and happiness across countries. It demonstrated that spending on wellness is strongly and positively correlated with increased longevity and happiness, not only for the “wealthy well” but across the board.

“As we dived into this research, it quickly became obvious that health and wellness should be embedded in the priorities for all policy-making,” said Katherine Johnston, GWI senior research fellow. “As compared to sustainability, it is astonishing that no one has talked about wellness as a comprehensive, cross-cutting policy category in government circles. The health of people should be paramount, just like the health of the planet, and really, the two go hand-in-hand. We hope that this study and GWI’s upcoming wellness policy tool-kits will kick start a global conversation and more research in this area.”

Wellness spending = Increased happiness and longevity

The research sets the stage for a series of Wellness Policy Toolkits to be released in 2023, which will provide governments, non-profits, communities and businesses with a roadmap on how to take action in seven domains of wellness policy: physical activity, healthy eating, mental wellness, traditional/complementary medicine, wellness in the built environment, wellness at work, and wellness in tourism.

To identify the relationship between wellness spending, happiness levels, and health outcomes, GWI researchers partnered with Dr. Shun Wang, a key author and statistician of the World Happiness Report. The report uses data from GWI’s wellness economy reports (measuring wellness spending in more than 200 markets), Gallup’s World Poll (for global happiness measurements), and the World Bank (for national life expectancy and income levels)– and then carefully adjusting for wealth levels and population size. 

Across countries, for every $844 increase in wellness spending per person, the average happiness level increases by nearly 7%. An increase of $769 in wellness spending per capita is associated with 1.26 years of extra life. These important results clearly signal that there are health and wellbeing benefits from wellness spending. “This is the first time that anyone has analysed wellness economy spending alongside data on happiness and life expectancy, and we found that investment in wellness is definitely linked to positive outcomes in these metrics,” said Ophelia Yeung, GWI senior research fellow. “We believe that wellness policy is crucial for bringing the benefits of wellness to everyone, especially to those who cannot pay for it or who face barriers to living a healthy lifestyle.”

Nové Lázně Health Spa and Hotel in Marianzke Lazne (Photo: https://www.ensanahotels.com/hotels/nove-lazne)

More on “Defining Wellness Policy” 

GWI defines wellness policy as “a set of cross-cutting actions that encourage healthy lifestyles and create supportive environments for human health and well-being.” Wellness policy is specifically focused on prevention, lifestyle changes, and the many environmental factors that affect people’s well-being.

Global health expenditures more than doubled in the last decade, reaching $8.5 trillion annually. While research shows that 80-90% of people’s health outcomes are determined by environmental, socio-economic, and lifestyle factors, healthcare remains primarily a “sick-care” model, while public health systems lack a mandate to address lifestyle and environmental factors.

GWI estimates that only about four percent of annual global health expenditures are for prevention, risk reduction, and public health. Wellness policy refocuses public health policy on the lifestyle factors and environmental determinants of health that have the biggest impact on our well-being and longevity.

Gaps in the Consumer Wellness Market

The modern consumer wellness movement has accomplished much, including mainstreaming a concept of health that is holistic and vastly increasing consumer choice. But it has left gaps in accessibility and affordability, and cannot bring wellness to all. Among the $4.4 trillion of wellness economy spending in 2020, only 6% was in “lower-middle” and “low-income” countries. Wellness is a powerful concept for policy action because it taps into the language and aspirational desires of consumers, but can ensure that access to wellness is far more equitable and inclusive.

Happiness and well-being have entered the mainstream lexicon, but their impact on policy remains limited. The conversation is still mostly theoretical and only a few (mostly small and wealthy countries, such as New Zealand, Wales and Scotland) have embedded happiness and well-being into their national budgeting priorities. Happiness and well-being policy then requires a long-term, monumental change in how governments set priorities and allocate resources.

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