In the Rapid Commercialization of the Wellness Industry, are we Losing its Essence?

Wellness sells, and people are buying. But are they choosing ‘fleeting fancy’ over ‘lasting change’?

Introduction

Wellness is today a buzzword in the health industry. Wellness sells, and people are buying. The wellness industry is growing at a frenetic pace. This can be gauged from the data released by the Global Wellness Institute. The global wellness market grew 10.6 per cent to $3.72 trillion from 2013 to 2015, even as the global economy shrank 3.6 per cent during the same period.

Future prospects of growth for the wellness industry

“The growth trajectory of the wellness industry appears unstoppable,” said Katherine Johnston and Ophelia Yeung, both senior researchers at GWI. America rates as the world’s top wellness nation. However, India figures in the top five beauty and wellness markets of the world and has the potential to even become the top wellness destination for global travellers. In the year 2016, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce (FICCI) in association with Ernst and Young, prepared a report titled Value Added Service – Wellness and Preventive Healthcare.

According to this report, the Indian wellness industry is expected to grow at a Compounded Annual Growth Rate of about12% for the next five years. From its current market size of about INR 85,000 crores, this industry can reach a market size of INR 1,50,000 crores by 2020.

Factors fueling the growth of the wellness industry

The key factors which are fueling this growth are:

  • The rising global epidemic of lifestyle diseases, also known as chronic diseases or non-communicable diseases.
  • Increasing stress levels.
  • Negative health impacts of environmental degradation
  • Failure of conventional medicine. This primarily focusses on cure or mitigation of disease (‘sick-care’ medical model), to improve the quality of life.
  • Increasing disposable income at the individual level. Government and corporate push are further adding momentum to this growth.

The economic impact of Lifestyle diseases

Sunday Times published a study done by the Harvard School of Public Health on economic losses due to lifestyle diseases in India, dated 08 Sep 2013. According to this study, the economic burden of these ailments for India will be close to $6.2 trillion for the period 2012–2030. The economic burden of these diseases may vary from country to country, but no nation is free from their impact. Accordingly, the governments are taking cognizance of the fact that the well-being and wellness of their citizens can bring down these costs, in terms of healthcare expenditure, and lost productivity.

Corporate Wellness

The corporate sector is also realizing the strategic advantage of preventive health care on corporate wellness. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) presented a paper in Jan 2018, titled ‘Corporate Wellness Programme: Benefits to Organisation and Economy.’ According to the paper, adoption of a corporate wellness program can save India up to US$ 20 billion by 2018 through a reduction in absenteeism rate by 1% and, at the same time, improve chronic and lifestyle diseases of corporates and employees. In brief, the concept of wellness today strikes a chord with both employees and employers. People want to live longer and healthier lives.

Consequences of rapid commercialization of the wellness industry

So far so good. Taken at face value, a popular emphasis on wellness – holistic health, rather than just physical health, is a good thing; rather, need of the hour. Unfortunately, there is now a distorted version of wellness because of the commercialization of it by opportunistic marketers, in an effort to capture new customers and make more money. The increasing competition has led to glamourization of the wellness industry, because of which a whole range of products, from apparels to tracking gadgets to health-foods are entering the market every day.

The mainstream success of juice bars to detox your body, considering that your liver doesn’t need help, athleisure (a trend in fashion in which clothing designed for workouts and other athletic activities is worn in other settings such as the workplace or at other casual or social occasions) leggings, beauty and anti-aging products, sleek-meditation studios, wellness vacations at fancy wellness resorts have given rise to new ways to sell wellness.

Examples of glamourization of wellness industry - tracking gadgets, juice bars, anti-ageing products, sleek meditation studios and fancy wellness resorts.
Examples of glamourization of wellness industry.

Segments of the Wellness industry

To better appreciate how market forces are driving wellness, look at how the major segments of the global wellness industry have grown over time. The figures given below are for the year 2015, and the data is in billion US dollars:

  1. Beauty and anti-ageing – 999
  2. Healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss – 648
  3. Wellness tourism – 563
  4. Fitness and mind-body – 542
  5. Preventive and personalized medicine and public health – 534
  6. Complementary and alternative medicine – 199
  7. Wellness lifestyle real estate – 119
  8. Spa industry – 99
  9. Thermal/Mineral Springs – 51
  10. Workplace wellness – 43

Conclusion

Wellness industry segments such as beauty and anti-ageing, wellness tourism, wellness lifestyle real estate, spa industry, thermal/mineral springs etc., combined together, account for major market share. This indicates how market forces have encouraged ‘fleeting fancy’ rather than ‘lasting change’. While most of it may not cause you any harm, but probably, it won’t help you either. In contrast, lasting change is the primary aim of a holistic health or wellness program.

Another fallout of commercialization of wellness is that it has created a market largely for the affluent. There are minimal wellness amenities/services accessible to the lower-income group. This group often needs this care more, as we will see in a subsequent post on the prevalence of lifestyle diseases. It cannot be stressed enough that population health cannot be effective if only applied to the wealthy.

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