The Wellness Shift

Trends / Wellness
We Are
Rebecca Rom-Frank
Aug 19, 2023
In recent years, American healthcare has undergone a paradigm shift: from reactive intervention alone to proactive wellness in everyday life.1 
How will visual depictions of wellness evolve?
Culture has come a long way since the concept of "wellness" belonged only to the upper‑middle‑class able to afford spin classes and facials; now, nearly every brand in every industry advertises wellness as a benefit of its product or service. Today, the global wellness industry is now worth $4.4 trillion and is only expected to grow.2

For healthcare brands, this is especially true, as it is now well understood that only 20% of one's overall health is a result of clinical care, whereas 80% is dependent on one's lifestyle choices, environment, and, perhaps most importantly, mental health.3 In fact, our consumer survey found that 8 in 10 Americans want to develop daily wellness routines, indicating that aspirational wellness is now all about a practice that appears attainable and sustainable.
Visually, this means that wellness must appear as authentic as possible, like a true slice of daily life, with as much variety, specificity, and intention as we might see in real life.
Everyday wellness now: embracing the new and novel
The menu of wellness practices available is ever‑expanding, and 4 in 5 Americans say they want to try new and different wellness practices. However, when we look at the visuals chosen by healthcare brands in 2022, we see the same old activities. Exercise and fitness scenarios primarily show walking, jogging, or yoga; and while these all model easy ways to get started with fitness, there’s an opportunity to visualize the new and novel activities that are really getting people excited, such as pickleball, pilates, or strength training. What’s more, most fitness activities are still shown as individual pursuits, even though studies show people are 56% more motivated when they work out with others,4 and that it reduces stress by 26% compared to working out alone.5

Nutrition, too, is most often visualized as a rather tame idea of what a healthy diet looks like: raw fruits and vegetables familiar in homogenized American culture, or the “grain bowls” associated with bourgeois vegetarian culture. The need for more culturally diverse and indulgent healthy nutrition is a topic we have covered extensively in a previous articles, but it’s no less relevant today. Choosing visuals which show the benefits of a more diverse array of physical activity and dietary choices can capture what’s getting Americans excited to create and stick to a daily physical wellness routine.
From body to mind: defining mental health 
In the wake of the mental health crisis precipitated by the pandemic, mental health issues that used be perceived as shameful are now +72% more visible in the visuals that healthcare brands used in 2022. Indeed, “mental health” now sits at the number 5 most popular search slot, right below the time‑tested searches for “doctor” and “patient”. Amongst all brands, searches for more specific topics such as “therapy” (+11%), “burnout” (+17%), and “emotional support” (+13%) are all trending up, while more general searches for “wellness”, “self care” and “mindfulness” are all trending down. Evidently, “self care” now means caring for one’s mental health.

Still, there is plenty of opportunity to represent mental health with more specificity; just 4% of the visuals healthcare brands are using reflect mental health topics, and an equal amount of popular images show a person struggling alone as they do model solutions. For example, less than 5% of visuals showing mental health scenarios show work/life balance, even though we know people want to look after their mental health on a daily basis.

There are also some unique nuances around mental health that are especially pronounced for certain communities. 2 in 3 Gen Z and Millennials say they're struggling with mental health—that’s twice as many as older generations—yet young people and generational‑specific mental health scenarios are rarely seen. Men’s mental health is often overlooked, too. 1 in 3 men say they struggle with mental health—this number rises to 56% of Gen Z and 47% for Millennials—but, tracking with the stereotype that men need to be stoic or macho, men are far less likely than women to be pictured discussing emotional issues. In fact, 80% of therapy images showing a man also show a woman, and there are very few popular images that show men supporting one another, or that show male therapists relating to male patients. Overall, there's an opportunity to continue breaking taboos around mental health by choosing visuals which dig into this previously stigmatized topic with both specificity and empathy.
Technology is driving optimism and independence
Did you know that Americans are more excited about self‑service wellness technology than virtual reality? It’s true—our consumer survey finds that 3 in 4 are more excited to use everyday devices such as meditation apps, fitness trackers, and blood sugar monitors in order have more control over their own health. Considering the crisis of health disinformation that proliferated during the pandemic—wherein 1 in 4 Americans are seeking (sometimes dubious) medical advice from social media influencers (rising to 2 in 5 Gen Z/Millennials)6—it's clear that Americans expect access to health information to be at their fingertips.

Despite this, in 2022, healthcare brands used 3x more visual concepts related to virtual reality and innovation than everyday tech devices. So there is still a lot of opportunity to choose visuals which capture the ways that technology is an invaluable resource in the health and wellness space. Consider showing how new apps and devices are helping people be more mindful, sleep better, eat more healthfully, discover new wellness practices, and even keep track of one's progress towards a healthier lifestyle. Health and wellness brands can lean into Americans' desire for more autonomy and control over their personal wellness, and choose visuals which demonstrate the vast array of choices that can lead to better health outcomes.
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