Healthy Revolution Reshaping the Way People Talk About Being Sick, Being Well, and the Vast in Between State of Semi-wellness
In recent decades, the relationship between humans and their health has evolved at an astounding rate. Increased knowledge and new tools and technologies have removed much of the mystery and unthinking acquiescence from the healthcare equation. Where once we were at the mercy of local medical authorities, now we can research our illnesses and hunt for alternative treatment options. At the same time, medical advances and longer lifespans mean dying is increasingly perceived less as a fate to be accepted than as a failure of disease management. In the case of many of the most common diseases, how we choose to live our lives plays at least as great a role as heredity or chance. And that changes everything about how people regard, prevent, and treat physical disorders.
In 2011, communications company Euro RSCG Worldwide undertook a major global study on the new realities in health and wellness. Working with research partner Market Probe International, we surveyed 7,213 adults in 19 countries around the world, representing a combined population of 3.6 billion.
"What our study has uncovered," says Tom Morton, chief strategic officer, Euro RSCG New York, "is a revolution in attitudes toward health—led by the most proactive, influential consumers (whom we call Prosumers) and with important implications for brands both within and outside the healthcare arena. Today's consumers are far better informed and engaged in their health than were consumers in the past. They are looking for brand partners to play a supportive role in their wellness quests, offering them not only effective and convenient products and tools, but also little 'nudges' that push them in a healthier direction every day."
Highlights of the study include:
>> Heightened Sense of Control: A majority of the global sample (56 percent)—and two-thirds of Prosumers—believe they have some or even a lot of control over illness in general. Drilling down into specific ailments, we found that at least half the sample believe they can control, at least in part, whether they become obese, contract a sexually transmitted disease, or develop diabetes, depression, or heart disease.
>> A New Notion of Responsibility: The perceived ability to control many disorders brings with it a greater sense of responsibility. This is exacerbated by the escalating financial burden of healthcare on individuals, communities, and governments. As healthcare costs continue to rise, wellness is no longer judged solely as a personal matter but also as a communal concern. As a consequence, "reckless" health behaviors are increasingly being punished. In October, Denmark introduced a so-called "fat tax" on certain foods that contain more than 2.3 percent saturated fat, and government employees in at least two U.S. states (Alabama and North Carolina) are being charged higher insurance premiums if they refuse to undergo a health check. Four in 10 respondents in our study agreed that employers should not be required to provide health coverage to employees who smoke. There's a growing sense that people who willfully neglect their health need to ante up to help pay for the financial consequences.
>> Intensified Focus on Brain Health: Consumers are showing increased interest in the care, exercise, and feeding of their brains, not least because the ancient notion of a link between mind and body is enjoying a comeback. More than 6 in 10 global respondents believe "powerful thoughts can help heal a person." Perhaps even more surprising, 4 in 10 respondents believe "most illness is psychosomatic"—in other words, it's all in our heads.
Our respondents made it clear that modern lifestyles have been doing our brains no favors: When asked to rate whether various factors are good or bad for our brains, a number of fixtures of modern life were deemed most harmful (in order): recreational drugs, tobacco, air and water pollution, stressful job, alcohol, anxiety, and low-nutrition diet. What is considered of most benefit to brain health? The top scores were given to exercise, sleep, love, healthful diet, reading books, socializing, and sex—just about all of which have taken a hit in this new age of digital communications and overdrive.
>> Diet as a Key Weapon in the Fight for Longer Life: Food has always been an important weapon in our health-maintenance arsenals, but now it's more top-of-mind, thanks to the rise of so-called "superfoods." Just more than three-quarters of Prosumers (76 percent) and 63 percent of mainstream respondents said they are much more aware today of the nutritional/health value of the foods they eat than they used to be. What's more, 78 percent of Prosumers and 66 percent of the mainstream believe "food is as effective as medicine in maintaining one's overall health." There's a downside, though: Only 37 percent of the global sample trust the food industry to provide them with healthful food. And 7 in 10 express concerns over food safety. Clearly, a lot of scope for improvement, including better quality control and greater transparency.
"Health is a category marked by tension," says Marianne Hurstel, vice president, BETC Euro RSCG and global chief strategy officer, Euro RSCG Worldwide. "On one hand, Prosumers think that everyone is responsible for taking care of their own health and that most diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and obesity, can be prevented through smart lifestyle choices. On the other hand, thanks to our ongoing financial insecurity and escalating healthcare costs, the financial consequences of irresponsible behaviors are increasingly scrutinized, from both an individual and a public perspective. Individuals who are sick pose a burden not just to themselves but, very often, also to their communities. This creates more pressure to pay attention to what you eat and how you live—and, for most respondents, also to how and what you think, with implications for spirituality and religion. This is a new life approach that changes the way you think about yourself and provides more of a sense of solidarity with others. It blurs the frontier between individual freedom and public obligations, influencing people's decisions with regard to their health."