From Cost to Retail Access, Low Socioeconomic Consumers Need Help to Create a More Inclusive and Democratized Health & Wellness Landscape.

Coronavirus Vaccination Concept

Much has been written about the heightened public attention to the pandemic’s negative effects on consumers’ health. The Hartman Group’s latest report on it, Health & Wellness 2021: Reimagining Well-being Amid COVID-19, reveals that widely reported rising rates of anxiety and depression across the U.S. hid a countertrend of improved mental health among those who have found the slower pace of life under the pandemic beneficial to their emotional well-being.

Hartman analysis uncovered that while extensive media coverage has been about the rising rates of anxiety, stress and depression symptoms, there are also many Americans who feel better about life due to lower stress. A full third of consumers feel their overall health has improved over the past year, whereas only a fifth say they are now worse off in these areas.

And yet, while there has been a silver lining for some lucky Americans, our research also shows that the pandemic has disproportionately affected consumers in lower socioeconomic levels (SEL). This isn’t necessarily new: according to previous Hartman Group health and wellness research, consumers with lower income and education were already assessing their health as worse than those of higher SEL in 2019, but in 2021 the gap widened. More economically vulnerable to begin with, these consumers are more likely to say the pandemic has had a negative impact on their overall health, their mental health, and their diet.

Their greater health needs and barriers make them a critical audience for brands seeking to make health and wellness solutions more accessible and inclusive, or, in other words, those brands seeking to democratize health and wellness.

The Democratization of Health & Wellness?

Democratization as a concept is growing increasingly familiar in many aspects of daily life: In the realm of health & wellness (and per the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services), the Affordable Care Act (ACA) helps uninsured Americans gain access to quality affordable health insurance coverage as well as “promoting wellness by generally requiring insurers to cover preventive care at no additional cost.”

Another example includes the democratization of technology and information that includes current efforts to expand access to broadband internet services for households across the United States, which in turn improves consumer access to information and data.

In terms of democratizing health and wellness, our Health & Wellness 2021 analysis finds that socioeconomic level (SEL) is a critical lens for examining the democratization of health and wellness in America, since it helps model consumers’ health and wellness needs and access. In addition, SEL also correlates with other demographic factors, including gender, race/ethnicity, and geography.

Health & Wellness 2021 finds that consumers in lower socioeconomic tiers are likely to face multiple systemic barriers to achieving their health and wellness goals. Their income and day-to-day lives have been more affected by the pandemic—as are various dimensions of their health, including mental well-being and diet.

 Figure 1: Compared to a Year Ago, My Overall Health and Wellness Is Now… 
Source: Health & Wellness 2021: Reimagining Well-being Amid COVID-19, The Hartman Group, Inc.

 SEL compare to a year ago H&W 2021

Many consumers share similarities in health and wellness-related aspirations and barriers to achieving these objectives, but there are stark differences across income and socioeconomic levels in the abilities of consumers to enact their health and wellness goals in a consistent way.

While many consumers carry similar health and wellness-related aspirations and face barriers to achieving these objectives, there are stark differences across income and socioeconomic levels in the abilities of consumers to enact their health and wellness goals in a consistent way. As highlighted in Figure 1, even views on overall health and wellness are quite different between high and low SEL consumers: Asked how their overall health and wellness compares to a year ago, only 27% of low SEL consumers feel they are much or somewhat better compared to 46% of high SEL consumers.

For example, low SEL consumers face higher barriers across many health and wellness modalities, and they are less likely to report attitudes and behaviors associated with holistic, proactive approaches to health and wellness. Figure 2 highlights how low SEL consumers are less likely to say they are proactive about healthy diet, lowering health risks and trying new health, wellness or fitness techniques. Nevertheless, Health & Wellness 2021 finds that their interest in adopting these approaches is higher, reflecting aspirations they hold that they are less able to enact.

 Figure 2: Health & Wellness Attitudes Across Socioeconomic Segments: Proactive Orientation 
Source: Health & Wellness 2021: Reimagining Well-being Amid COVID-19, The Hartman Group, Inc.

 Low SEL proactive H&W

Other clear barriers to health and wellness that low SEL consumers face are cost and geographic availability. Cost—not priority—is their chief obstacle to adoption of various health and wellness solutions. Time is another key barrier, as these households juggle a range of responsibilities and often have schedules less conducive to exploring and developing health and wellness routines.

Low SEL consumers are engaged and interested in health and wellness information-sourcing but cite knowledge as a gap in their health and wellness approach. With fewer avenues for putting health and wellness ideals into action, this “knowledge” gap is likely related to opportunity for experience and familiarity rather than access to content.

Possibilities for the Democratization of Health & Wellness Going Forward:

Socioeconomic level continues to have a powerful effect on health status in America. With the pandemic intensifying this inequity and accelerating awareness around collective well-being, many brands are developing greater clarity and sense of purpose regarding how they participate in today’s wellness industry and the consumer groups that may be excluded or underserved. Addressing several types of barriers and differences is critical to achieving a more inclusive and democratized health and wellness landscape for all.

Although cost is a primary barrier, other obstacles such as retailer access and time pressures are considerable among a substantial number of low socioeconomic level consumers. These barriers present areas of opportunity for retailers to expand their services, whether through more affordable healthy options in-store or through augmented and affordable online delivery capabilities to food-insecure and food-scarce areas, both rural and urban.

Time constraints also impact low socioeconomic households in a variety of ways, implying a need for more flexible solutions that support and enable consumers in tailoring health and wellness tactics to the needs of the moment and making choices that do not feel like a trade-off between convenience and health.