Global Wellness Summit: U.S. Election Makes the World Feel Sick

During the first day of the Global Wellness Summit (touted as “the Davos of Wellness”) in Kitzbuhel, Austria, there was a lot of talk about the importance of going “Back to the Future,” the theme of this year’s gathering of some 500 CEO-level beauty and fitness purveyors, spa owners, healers, and doctors from 45 countries. Keynote speeches and panels wrestled with the duality of embracing the fast-paced modern lifestyle of constant connection with needing to unplug, be in nature, and slow down. Striking that balance between technology and the mind-heart-soul is the key to well being (many of the experts here are loathe to say “wellness”; when asked why he hates the word, legendary founder of Baden-Baden’s Brenner’s Park Hotel Spa Richard Schmitz said, “For one thing, it’s not proper English”).

Among the fuzzy talk about swapping “to do” lists for “to be” lists and “lifespan” for “healthspan,” there is hard economic research about the growing wellness industry, and a vibrant discussion about why it’s booming.

American economists Katherine Johnston and Ophelia Yeung, both senior research fellows for the Global Wellness Institute, a Miami-based think-tank, presented data from their report the 2016 Global Wellness Economic Monitor:

· $3.72 trillion spend in 2015 worldwide on wellness. To put that number in perspective, wellness accounts for 5.1 percent of global economic output. It far outpacing global GDP growth, and is nearly half of all health expenditures.

A breakdown, by category:

· $999 billion on beauty and anti-aging

· $647.8 billion on healthy eating, nutrition and weight loss

· $563.2 billion on wellness tourism

· $542 billion on fitness and mind-body work

· $534.3 billion on preventative and personalized medicine

· $199 billion on complementary and alternative medicine

· $118.6 billion on wellness lifestyle real estate

· $98.6 billion on spas treatments

· $51 billion on thermal/mineral springs facilities

· $43.3 billion on workplace wellness

“The wellness economy just keeps rising, with an upward trajectory that seems unstoppable,” said Yeung. She cited “megatrends” such as a rapidly aging world population, chronic disease, a shift from the “sick-care” medical model to preventative care—and the stress epidemic caused by lingering effects of the recession and upsetting geopolitical events.

Johnston and Yeung’s data was collected over the past year, and they believe there is a connection between the stress of the presidential election and the increases in feel-good spending. When the news is awful and politics are disruptive and disheartening, people do what they can to feel better. “As a researcher, we say that more anxiety in the world translates into more people seeking out wellness trips,” said Yeung.

“There’s a lot of anxiety going on, due to terrorism, Brexit, Trump,” said Johnston. “People have legitimate fears. Travel is an escape, a getaway. So if you feel a lot of stress from those things, part of your motivation for needing a getaway is getting away from that.” She believes there’s a real shift in consciousness. “People are asking ourselves, how do we interact with the world, what matters, how we think about things and do things that make us feel better, whether it’s health or travel.”

So the bad news is that, worldwide, anxiety and stress are making people feel sick and disgusted. The good news, especially for those who profit from and work in the wellness industry, is that people have an outlet to make themselves feel better.

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