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COVID-19’s disparate toll on household routines and Americans’ paths to well-being

According to our most recent consumer research, health and wellness experiences during the pandemic have been highly uneven across the population. Despite heightened public attention to the pandemic’s negative effects on consumers’ health, a substantial portion of Americans actually feel their health and wellness improved during the pandemic. The Hartman Group’s Health & Wellness: Reimagining Well-being Amid Covid-19 report finds 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.

Positive shifts are often credited to better diets, more exercise and the generally slower pace of life -- a de facto acknowledgement that the way we have lived our lives to date isn’t health-promoting insofar as it compromises the control we have over how, what and when we eat, when and how we exercise, how much we sleep, etc.

This renewed sense of control may seem paradoxical. Stay-at-home orders and mask requirements have in many ways taken away consumers’ control over their lives, bringing along a fundamental altering of life’s contexts, prolonged social isolation and a shift towards more sedentary lifestyles for many remote workers. Yet the sudden freedom from established routines of “regular” lives has allowed some consumers to experience a complete reversal of typical American culture during the pandemic, and they are finding it has improved their lives.

This experience, however, of health improvement and increased agency -- while meaningful -- is not universal, and many individuals and households have experienced negative effects on well-being during the pandemic.

Consumers across socioeconomic levels show similar degrees of health and wellness engagement and articulate similar aspirations (albeit to varying degrees) that speak to the search for balance between physical and mental health.

However, consumers on the periphery of engagement in health and wellness, as well as women and households in lower socioeconomic tiers, have not experienced the same lifting effect.

Lack of resources -- financial, time, or skill -- has made it especially difficult for some households to tap into new modalities of health and wellness (and personal safety) during the pandemic.

The physical, mental and economic toll associated with COVID-19 varies across the population.

Highly variable outcomes of the virus. 

Most Americans now know someone who has become ill from COVID-19, and its differing outcomes serve to underscore the threat of the virus, the variability of immune responses, and the important role health and wellness plays in one’s life and the life of a community.

Unequally shared health and economic burdens. 

In a country reckoning with systemic inequities, it has become clear that lower-income Americans, people of color, and a number of other groups face greater risks to their health and financial stability overall and from the pandemic in particular. The virus’s impacts sit in tension with other cultural currents for which America is known: opportunity, individualism, and more.

Experience of social isolation. 

With COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S. passing the half-million point in 2021, social isolation is taking an additional toll. It has become a particularly acute concern for the elderly, children and young adults accustomed to highly social settings -- and anyone living alone.

Household routines have been disrupted in disparate ways with different effects -- some negative, and some positive.

Novel challenges accompanying new home routines. 

Those able to work or study from home express gratitude, but many also recount feeling stress as they adjust to new routines, experience blurring of work/life boundaries, fatigue in a life mediated by Zoom and more.

Parents’ distinct challenges and concerns. 

Households with children are not only busier and more time-constrained -- in some cases, their schedules have become extremely complicated as they adjust to school closings, re-openings and hybrid learning models. Many also note a particular effort to keep children physically active and emotionally supported.

Renewed connection with household and self. 

Some have found in the new stay-at-home/bubble routine an opportunity to reconnect with household members, the self or even family and friends far away via Zoom -- driven by necessity but not without its benefits.

The democratization of health & wellness

Socioeconomic level (SEL) is a critical lens for examining the democratization of health and wellness in America, shaping consumers’ health and wellness needs and access. SEL correlates with other demographic factors, including gender, race/ethnicity and geography. 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.

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. 

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. Their interest in adopting these approaches is higher, however, reflecting aspirations they hold that they are less able to enact.

Clear barriers 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.

The content low SEL consumers are using most comes from the varied landscape of social media. The professional expertise other consumers rely on is likely higher risk for low SEL consumers because of cost and potential lack of sensitivity to their concerns and circumstances.

 

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As CEO of The Hartman Group, Demeritt drives the vision, strategy, operations and results-oriented culture for the company's associates as The Hartman Group furthers its offerings of tactical thinking, consumer and market intelligence, cultural competency and innovative intellectual capital to a global marketplace.

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