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The Health and Wellness Industry FAQ: What is “Wellness?”

 Wellness Exists at the intersection of Contentment and Aspiration. To live  there, You Must First Choose to Move Out of the Village of Someday…



Over the years I’ve been asked a number of questions about the health and wellness industry. This is question #6 of the top 10 most frequently asked questions. The responses are, of course, neither right nor wrong. They are simply my impressions from over 35 years of field experience.

QUESTION #6: There seems to be confusion as to what is “Wellness.” How do you define it?

RESPONSE: This is a very important question. As I have stated before, if you fail to level-set a conversation by defining the term for all parties, “wellness” can be an amorphous, dangerous and distracting word:  For example, when used as an antonym for sickness the term loses punch and significance because it’s not measurable.  How does “wellness” translate into dollars?  The argument goes, “I get that ‘sickness’ means missing work, incurring medical expenses and running-up pharmacy costs, but what are the savings or, absence of cost, that comes with being well?”  Without context, the value of “Wellness” is too slippery to measure. As a result, it  is often the first to feel the blade of budget cutbacks. Far from fluff and waste, WELLNESS is an umbrella descriptor for programs, policies and initiatives that promote health, prevent certain diseases and compress morbidity (shorten length of illness).  Wellness is both an objective and subjective incremental state of wellbeing with infinite variations. Brush up on your Edington, Goetzel, O’Donnell, Pronk and Chapman research and frame your discussion in terms of benefits…not features:

  • Increased productivity
  • Reduced Absenteeism
  • Bending (or Flattening) Healthcare Cost Trends
  • Recruiting Top Talent
  • Retaining Key Employees
  • Improving Community Quality of Life
  • And more…

Here are my definitions of individual as well as community (including worksite) wellness:

well·ness, \ˈwel-nəs\: a dynamic objective and subjective progression toward a state of complete physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.  Incremental improvements can occur from pre-conception up to and including a person’s last breath 

Using this definition, community wellness, by extension, is:

any activity, policy, attitude, and physical plant circumstance that facilitates a person’s progression toward complete physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of harm.

And, yes, I know, COMPLETE actualization is not going to happen in this lifetime.  It is the continuous progression of incremental (mostly small) improvements that we seek to achieve and—particularly important to CFOs—measure.


“We are bombarded with individuals and organizations selling wellness (health promotion, disease prevention and disease management) products and services. 

How do you sort out the good, bad and truly ugly?”

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