The wellness industry isn’t well, and people are finally waking up to it (2023)

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Gwyneth Paltrow touts the benefits of inserting a jade egg into the vagina and keeping it there overnight. Demi Moore and Miranda Kerr swear by the benefits of “leech therapy”. Kim Kardashian has her own blood injected back into her face. This she’s dubbed “really rough and painful”. Well, as those who stick to plain old moisturiser might say... duh.

It’s always been easy to mock A-listers for their ever-more-wacky wellness pursuits. Yet as extreme as they may be, their exploits are also low-hanging fruit in a culture that, for roughly a decade now, has been saturated with wellness down to its core. If anything, the outlandish activities of the rich and famous might actually serve as a nice distraction. Look around and you’ll notice that the concept of wellness has seeped into many aspects of ordinary women’s lives.

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Dedicated followers of the industry might attend “wellness festivals”, “goddess gatherings” or “cannabis retreats”, or try out “vaginal steaming”. Whether self-proclaimed wellness devotees or not, women in London and Los Angeles alike go to SoulCycle, go on juice cleanses and eat nothing that isn’t “clean”. Others do yoga, charge crystals, download mindfulness apps, shun “toxins” for “superfoods”, and drink natural wine. Still more might say they “prioritise self-care”, or invest in supplements, or attempt “digital detoxes” and “intermittent fasting”.

When renowned American journalist Dan Rather presented a US news segment on the topic in 1979, he said: “Wellness – there’s a word you don’t hear every day.” How times change. Now, wellness is everywhere – an all-consuming concept that has transformed every brand and life experience it has touched, from food and travel to exercise and sex. It’s a powerful and hugely profitable global industry, valued at $4.4 trillion in 2020. That’s more than three times larger than the worldwide pharmaceutical industry. So, if wellness is now just an everyday word, surely we must ask: is everyone feeling good? Are we all well? Unfortunately, as with many individual wellness fads and trends, the evidence isn’t looking good.

American reporter Rina Raphael was, for a long time, a wellness industry acolyte. “While I was never into the more extreme wellness products or services, like yoni eggs or leech therapy, I did take a lot of the more mainstream ideas at face value,” she says. Indeed, part of the reason she accepted wellness concepts like “clean beauty, clean eating and energy-boosting supplements” was precisely because they were so mainstream. “They were everywhere,” Raphael stresses, “in every women’s outlet, all over Instagram, touted by celebrities, and even on grocery aisle shelves. My local supermarket sold detox kits!”

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So, while she considered herself sceptical of “the more bizarre stuff”, like many thirtysomething professional women in the 2010s, Raphael still bought into a lot of it: “All these ideas that had very little, if any, scientific [basis].” One particular wellness drug of choice for her was The Class, which describes itself as “a cathartic workout experience that guides you to strengthen the body and notice the mind to restore balance”. A recent advert features Emma Stone in athleisure, peppily explaining that “the first time I ever went to The Class I just felt terror because I thought it was just too hard for me. And then I think I cried. And then I loved it. If I could do it every day I would.”

I was personally not feeling or performing any better. Rather I was consumed with ‘wellness’ and my body. It became work

A few years ago, Raphael’s account of The Class might have sounded similar. But then her father passed away. In the fog of new grief, she began to question the quasi-religious platitudes and gospel of community she was consuming in Sunday morning workout classes. She describes it as “the first crack in the armour of [her] otherwise complete devotion to [her] wellness regime”. Cracks kept appearing. “I became exhausted,” she says.

More than that, she realised she was becoming paranoid. Far from making her feel better, wellness seemed to be aggravating latent anxieties. She felt like punishing herself if she missed a single day of working out. She became terrified of parabens, or the preservatives found in many cosmetic products – “even though I later learned they’re one of the most tested preservatives”. Self-care became a job. “I was personally not feeling or performing any better,” she remembers. “Rather I was consumed with ‘wellness’ and my body. It became work.”

At the same time that wellness was feeling increasingly like work for Raphael, her actual work was becoming increasingly wellness-focused. Reporting on new wellness brands and trends for a business magazine, she kept running into problems. “I was hearing from scientists and researchers who informed me that a lot of these companies were completely pseudoscientific.” Her personal and professional lives collided. “I had to realise that the wellness industry isn’t well.”

This growing scepticism led Raphael to write a book, The Gospel of Wellness: Gyms, Gurus, Goop, and the False Promise of Self-Care, which is out now. It’s an expansive survey of the contemporary wellness industry, and a debunking of sorts. Jumping from yoga to “clean” eating to “self-care”, Raphael digs deep into different facets of wellness, trying to sort the wheat from the scammy, overhyped and dangerous chaff.

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One crucial chapter, titled “Gym as Church”, dives into the fitness wing of the wellness industry. Looking particularly at the SoulCycle phenomenon, Raphael suggests that the popular idea that fitness can and should provide “a transcendent collective experience” speaks to contemporary loneliness and isolation. Therefore we have “fitness families”, “deep connections with oneself”, wealthy white women with their boutique “tribes”. Yet, Raphael writes, “by boosting fitness stars to prophet proportions, SoulCycle inadvertently created untouchable gods”. Staff were regularly sacked with no explanation or compensation, and multiple clients and employees reported widescale sexist, racist and bullying behaviour. One anecdote in particular seems to sum up an essential cruelty lurking behind the company’s “all is wellness” smiles: an investigation by Vox discovered a note hanging in a SoulCycle office, written by a top instructor, that read “if someone asks you if you are back on cocaine or if you have an eating disorder, you know you’ve hit your goal weight”. SoulCycle reportedly did nothing, and only issued a statement when the cumulation of public criticism threatened to damage the brand. Or, in other words, once it threatened to hurt their bottom line.

Another chapter is titled “Is My Face Wash Trying to Kill Me?”. In it, Raphael takes aim at the beauty industry’s fast and loose approach to science. She grapples with the marketing mythology that “natural is best”, discusses the overblown claims from “clean beauty” brands, as well as cases of “clean” and “natural” products that have nurtured mould spores in their packets. “Wellness marketing perpetuates chemophobia,” she writes, “[or] an outsized fear of synthetic chemicals or ‘chemical exposure’.” Essentially, we’re easily duped by misinformation that looks a bit like science. As Raphael puts it: “We believe companies who say natural is better because it sounds right.”

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The entire concept of wellness is founded on the idea that just because you aren’t sick, it doesn’t mean you’re not unwell. This means that the wellness industry relies on widespread sections of the global population regarding themselves as unhealthy, along with wealthy, well-heeled women diagnosing themselves as not up to scratch – then splashing the cash to try and fix it. This means, of course, that in the constant pursuit of ever-larger profits, the wellness industry will keep inventing new-fangled reasons for their marks to feel dissatisfied.

Instead of getting better, though, wellness devotees are getting paranoid. Even more concerningly, rather than becoming mini-Gwyneths, many seem to be turning into mini-fascists. Paranoia about parabens and toxins can evolve into anti-vax sentiment. From there, it’s easy to slip down a rabbit hole of conspiracy and alt-right thinking. Looking at the yoga and wellness gurus who’ve been hooked by QAnon, Kinfolk magazine recently described this phenomenon as “The Alt-Right Wellness Loop”.

There may be a light on the horizon, though. In a recent LA Times piece, Raphael suggested that “wellness products are losing their selling power”, and that the Goop-ification of consumerism is showing “increasing signs of decay”. Part of this may be an inevitable course correction – the trend pendulum swinging back. But there are also signs that a bigger wellness backlash is under way. While Gen Z in particular is reported as being more critical of wellness marketing and misinformation than any other generation, one study found that more than 67 per cent of adults report a growing mistrust of brands. A swelling tide of people are demanding more consumer trials and more clinical evidence. Essentially, people seem to be waking up to the wellness industry’s scams. More science. Less snake oil.

Writing in Studies in Popular Culture, feminist scholar Dr Carol-Ann Farkas neatly summarised wellness culture as “a radical turning inward of agency toward the goal of transformation of one’s own body, in contrast to a turning outward to mobilise for collective action”. In other words, if we’re kept busy fasting, exercising and buying, we won’t have the time, energy or will to challenge the workings of patriarchy and capitalism. Let alone can we begin to organise to dismantle those systems. Instead, wellness demands an individualistic retreat to self-care, self-soothing and self-optimisation.

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In 2010, Farkas suggested that “raising our individual level of awareness, knowledge and expertise may take us from advocating the wellness of our own bodies to working together to improve the wellness of the body politic.” Thirteen years later, with countless cracks rupturing the wellness industry, it’s still one of the biggest challenges we have on our hands.

‘The Gospel of Wellness: Gyms, Gurus, Goop, and the False Promise of Self-Care’ is in shops now

FAQs

How much is the health and wellness industry worth? ›

The global health and wellness market was valued at USD 4,886.70 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach over USD 7,656.7 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 5.5% from 2021 to 2030.
...
Single User LicenseUSD 4900
Corporate LicenseUSD 8900
1 more row

What's trending in health and wellness? ›

Meditation, therapy, mental health apps, journaling, and logging off social media are their top focus. The value of the global meditation market is skyrocketing, growing at a CAGR of 18.5% through 2029.

What is the wellness culture? ›

Cultural wellness refers to the way you interact with others who are different from you in terms of ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, and customs (practices).

How can we improve health and wellness? ›

9 TESTED TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR WELLBEING AND QUALITY OF LIFE
  1. Take Proper Sleep: ...
  2. Eat a Balanced Diet: ...
  3. Expose Your Body to Sunlight: ...
  4. Deal with Stress: ...
  5. Exercise Daily: ...
  6. Stay Away from Smoking and Alcohol: ...
  7. Be Social, as Much as You Can: ...
  8. Find and Practice New Hobbies:

Are people getting more health conscious? ›

Around the world, consumers say they're more conscious of both mental health and sleep health since the pandemic. Consequently, they're looking for products that help them relax and improve their emotional well-being – because they also understand that poor mental health makes us more vulnerable to physical illness.

What is the biggest health issue today? ›

Heart disease and stroke still the leading causes of death for both U.S. men and women.

Why wellness is important today? ›

Physical wellness promotes proper care of our bodies for optimal health and functioning. There are many elements of physical wellness that all must be cared for together. Overall physical wellness encourages the balance of physical activity, nutrition and mental well-being to keep your body in top condition.

Why is wellness important in society? ›

Maintaining an optimal level of social wellness allows you to build healthy relationships with others. Having a supportive social network allows you to develop assertive skills and become comfortable with who you are in social situations. Surrounding yourself with a positive social network increases your self-esteem.

What are 3 key elements of a successful wellness program? ›

Based on their experience, the following are key elements of a successful wellness program.
  • Flexibility. The goal for any wellness program is engagement from its employees. ...
  • Be aware of best practices. ...
  • An ability to track engagement. ...
  • Freedom to choose. ...
  • Motivates people to make wellness a priority.

What is wellness in simple words? ›

Wellness is the act of practicing healthy habits on a daily basis to attain better physical and mental health outcomes, so that instead of just surviving, you're thriving. To understand the significance of wellness, it's important to understand how it's linked to health.

What are five ways to maintain wellness? ›

5 steps to mental wellbeing
  1. Connect with other people. Good relationships are important for your mental wellbeing. ...
  2. Be physically active. Being active is not only great for your physical health and fitness. ...
  3. Learn new skills. ...
  4. Give to others. ...
  5. Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)

How can you improve your quality of life? ›

6 Ways to Improve Your Quality of Life
  1. Smile Any Negative Feelings Away. The simple act of smiling can drastically change the way you feel at any given time. ...
  2. Be Grateful For What You Have. ...
  3. Try to Learn Something New Every day. ...
  4. Stay Active. ...
  5. Get the Rest Your Body Needs. ...
  6. Organize Your House and Mind.
Mar 16, 2018

What are the 4 ways to promote wellness? ›

Here are five science-backed health practices that are proven to improve health along with a few suggestions of how to promote them around your office.
  • Wellness habit 1: Eat whole foods. ...
  • Wellness habit 2: Drink water. ...
  • Wellness habit 3: Get plenty of rest. ...
  • Wellness habit 4: Balance diet with exercise.
Jul 12, 2017

Are Americans becoming more healthy? ›

Evidence shows that many Americans are becoming more health conscious and adopting habits that will help them stay vibrant and active throughout their lives. A few of the top healthy trends: Fewer smokers every year.

Why is wellness more than just being healthy? ›

People often think about wellness in terms of physical health — nutrition, exercise, weight management, etc., but it is so much more. Wellness is a holistic integration of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, fueling the body, engaging the mind, and nurturing the spirit (1).

Do people with good health live longer? ›

8 in BMJ, they report that a healthy lifestyle can indeed contribute to more—and more disease-free—years of life. The results suggest that women can extend their disease-free life expectancy after age 50 by about 10 years, and men can add about eight years more, than people who don't have these habits.

What is the number 1 health problem in America? ›

The No. 1 health condition in the U.S. is heart disease. It is one of the leading causes of death, comprising more than a quarter of all deaths annually. It is estimated that someone has a heart attack in the U.S. every 43 seconds.

What are the 3 biggest health problems? ›

Heart, stroke and vascular disease – 82.7% Kidney disease – 77.8% Cancer – 75.0%

Is our health declining? ›

A dramatic fall in life expectancy

With rare exceptions, life expectancy has been on the rise in the US: it was 47 years in 1900, 68 years in 1950, and by 2019 it had risen to nearly 79 years. But it fell to 77 in 2020 and dropped further, to just over 76, in 2021.

How can we solve the healthcare crisis in America? ›

U.S. healthcare needs multiple changes to be more effective: (1) pay for results, not action; (2) run healthcare delivery systems like businesses competing to deliver better health at lower costs; (3) demand that other health industries also compete on making people healthier at lower costs; and (4) learn from the ...

What is one of the biggest issues facing the future of healthcare? ›

Rising Healthcare Costs

The cost crisis in healthcare is not new. There are many stakeholders who play a key role in determining the cost of healthcare services, ranging from device manufacturers to medical drug manufacturing companies and payers to insurance policy providers.

What are the major issues in US health care? ›

The cost is enormous

Despite spending far more on healthcare than other high-income nations, the US scores poorly on many key health measures, including life expectancy, preventable hospital admissions, suicide, and maternal mortality.

What has the greatest influence on wellness? ›

Our health is largely determined by the social, economic, cultural, and physical environments we live in — everything from where we work and live to our level of education and our access to healthy food and water.

Why is it hard for people to stay healthy? ›

Lack of know-how and guidelines: We do not have a guided approach to healthy lifestyles, and as humans, if we do not know exactly what, how, when, and even why exactly we should pursue a specific activity, we just will not do it.

Why wellness is important in the future? ›

Yet, if improved upon collectively, wellness can also provide wider societal benefits such as lower healthcare costs, higher productivity, better social relationships and an improvement in overall satisfaction and quality of life.

What are 5 benefits of wellness? ›

Research studies related to wellness indicate that Americans who take good care of themselves and make healthy lifestyle choices are healthier, happier, more productive, miss less work, and have lower healthcare costs.

How health and wellness impacts your life? ›

Good physical health leaves a personal feeling better in the long term. As the American Heart Association puts it, “Physical activity boosts mental wellness. Regular physical activity can relieve tension, anxiety, depression and anger.”

How does society affect wellness? ›

They can include things like your education level, your exposure to violence, the way your community is designed, and if you have access to health care. These factors affect your ability to take part in healthy behaviors, and this affects your health.

How can we improve workplace wellness? ›

14 ways to help improve employee health and well-being
  1. Eat a good breakfast. ...
  2. Be prepared to handle stress. ...
  3. Reduce sitting time. ...
  4. Build a healthy lunch routine. ...
  5. Encourage hand washing. ...
  6. Prevent back pain from sitting. ...
  7. Avoid digital eye strain. ...
  8. Make time for physical activity.

What is the key to wellness? ›

As a quick overview, Wellness is maintained by paying attention to our daily lives on four levels: Physical, Mental, Emotional and Spiritual Health. To accomplish this, there are five simple keys or exercises: Self-Love, Breathing, Positive Choices, Balance and Trust.

How do you create a successful workplace wellness program? ›

7 Steps to a Successful Workplace Wellness Program
  1. Get management commitment: Time and resources are vital to making a program work well, so you'll need buy-in from management. ...
  2. Create a wellness committee: ...
  3. Collect data: ...
  4. Develop a plan: ...
  5. Choose actions: ...
  6. Create a supportive environment: ...
  7. Evaluate and modify:

What is difference between health and wellness? ›

In understanding the difference between health and wellness, in short, health is a state of being, whereas wellness is the state of living a healthy lifestyle (3). Health refers to physical, mental, and social well-being; wellness aims to enhance well-being.

What does wellness mean and why it is important? ›

Wellness—it's more than a buzzword. Wellness is a holistic approach to health that includes more than our physical and mental wellbeing; wellness encompasses emotional, spiritual, and social wellbeing for full body wellness, too.

How much is the wellness industry worth 2022? ›

The health and wellness industry is worth $4.4 trillion.

This is the global market's value as of 2022, and experts predict an annual growth rate of 9.9% as it comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic, which will turn into an estimated CAGR of 5.5% from 2021 to 2030.

How big is the health and wellness industry in the US? ›

We estimate the spend on wellness products and services to be more than $450 billion in the United States and growing at more than 5 percent annually.

Which is no 1 wellness company in the world? ›

Herbalife is a great place to work. You will learn a lot and the employees are great! Also, great work life balance. Everything is great at Herbalife.

How much is US health industry worth? ›

The healthcare industry is worth $808 billion in the United States as of 2021. 65% of the industry's revenue comes from patient care. The global healthcare industry is worth $12 trillion.

Do wellness programs save money? ›

Burden of Reducing Healthcare Costs

When we look at the exact reasons why healthcare costs increase, it's clear that wellness programs can only impact a few of these cost drivers. Worksite wellness programs are effective at reducing the demand for health care which lowers cost and helps employers save money.

Which is the world best wellness industry? ›

Top 25 Wellness Companies
  • Sharecare.
  • Grokker.
  • WebMD Health Services.
  • Mobile Health.
  • WellSteps.
  • Optum.
  • Thrive Global.
  • Cerner Corporation.

What is the fastest growing wellness company? ›

Medifast (NYSE: MED) is the global company behind one of the fastest-growing health and wellness communities, OPTAVIA®, which offers scientifically developed products, clinically proven plans and the support of independent OPTAVIA Coaches and a Community to help Customers achieve Lifelong Transformation, One Healthy ...

What are the challenges of health and wellness industry? ›

The main component of a wellness industry is the input costs such as property rentals, manpower, consumables, equipments etc. Wide fluctuations and increase in raw material prices have resulted in increased consumable cost. It has also resulted in the increase in rental costs, especially in metros and cities.

Why is wellness so important now? ›

Physical wellness promotes proper care of our bodies for optimal health and functioning. There are many elements of physical wellness that all must be cared for together. Overall physical wellness encourages the balance of physical activity, nutrition and mental well-being to keep your body in top condition.

Why is the wellness industry important? ›

The wellness industry can play a vital role in helping to facilitate preventative lifestyle and behaviour practices that address these challenges and create positive social outcomes.

What is the healthiest company? ›

The 2022 Healthiest 100 Workplaces in America, with their headquarters location and number of employees, are:
  • Harris Health System (Bellaire, Texas — 9,323)
  • Witham Health Services (Lebanon, Ind. ...
  • BankUnited, N.A. (Miami Lakes, Fla. ...
  • OneAZ Credit Union (Phoenix, Ariz. ...
  • Northwell Health (Lake Success, N.Y.
Oct 5, 2022

What is the largest health company in the world? ›

UnitedHealth

What is the biggest health company? ›

These are the 20 largest publicly traded healthcare companies by revenue:
  • UnitedHealth, $313.13 billion - Minnetonka, Minn.
  • CVS Health, $307.86 billion - Woonsocket, R.I.
  • McKesson, $268.44 billion - Irving, Texas.
  • AmerisourceBergen, $236.32 billion - Conshohocken, Pa.
  • Cardinal Health, $181.36 billion - Dublin, Ohio.
Nov 2, 2022

Who profits the most in US healthcare? ›

UnitedHealth Group was the most profitable payer in 2021, bringing in more than double the profit of its next-closest competitor with $17.3 billion in earnings.

How much does the US waste on healthcare? ›

Clinical waste is caused by failures of care delivery, failures of care coordination, and overtreatment, accounting for 5.4–15.7 percent of all health spending in the US.

Is US healthcare a market failure? ›

As you might know, market failure occurs when there is an inefficient distribution of goods and services in the market. The healthcare market has always been considered an imperfect market. This is due to the availability of limited information and resources.

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