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Health & wellness in the US today: Cultural shifts and the COVID-19 pandemic

Several long-term shifts have been reshaping the American health and wellness landscape over the past two decades.

5 min read

Consumer Insights

Health & wellness in the US today: Cultural shifts and the COVID-19 pandemic


The Hartman Group’s health and wellness research has been tracking consumer attitudes, behaviors, aspirations and challenges around health and wellness over two decades. Several long-term shifts have been reshaping the American health and wellness landscape over this time frame. 

  • Human understanding of what it means to be healthy and well has always been evolving as new scientific facts and societal orientation emerge.
  • An increased grasp of the interconnectedness of different parts of the body and of different aspects of modern life has deepened focus on holistic wellness, including mental health.
  • New technologies have enabled new ways of tracking health statistics and supporting one’s health with increasingly personalized solutions.

Accelerating these trends, the year 2020 brought about unprecedented challenges on multiple fronts, shifting consumer perceptions, concerns and routines. 

The global spread of COVID-19 has been the major driving force behind changing lifestyles and attitudes but certainly not the only force, with environmental and social justice issues also receiving a substantial share of public attention over the past year.

The Hartman Group’s Health & Wellness: Reimagining Well-being Amid COVID-19 report finds that after a year of disruption to Americans’ lives at societal and household levels, consumers are more attuned to the importance of resilience and healing in the face of change.

The meaning of health and wellness remains firmly rooted in a foundation of physical and mental resilience. Throughout 2020, a year of frustrating and fluctuating circumstances, consumers returned to this ideal as their North Star, guiding their aspirations as they reimagined their paths to well-being.

There has been a heightened sentiment in many of feeling anxious and overwhelmed — by information and messages, by lifestyle ruts that can feel inescapable, by daily work-life balance, by polarizing politics and by big issues like social justice and climate change.

Health & wellness in America today 

Gradual cultural shifts, global and domestic crises and the momentum of social and environmental movements shape the American health and wellness landscape today. 

Health and wellness in the US has evolved as science, technology, consumers and sociocultural factors influence what we need, believe and value. These forces shape an increasingly holistic ideal of health and wellness that draws attention to individual needs, interconnected systems of the body, mental and emotional well-being and more.

One of the key findings in our report is that the shared context presented by the pandemic belies disparate impacts on American households. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is the most significant and widespread force reshaping the American health and wellness landscape today, with 85% of US adults reporting fundamental changes to the circumstances of their lives. However, the specific impacts on individuals and households are anything but uniform.

Shifts in consumer health attitudes and concerns span personal and community safety, near- and long-term health, mental and physical well-being, and connections to the world beyond one’s household. More than one-third (38%) of consumers say their views on health and wellness have changed in the past year. 

What are the key reasons for changed views on health and wellness? 

  • more stress or anxiety – 38% 
  • changed lifestyle – 33% 
  • weight gain/loss – 32%
  • change in fitness level – 29% 
  • new/changed health conditions – 26%
  • loved one with COVID-19 diagnosis or suspicion – 26%
  • new, relevant learning about health – 26% 

We also uncovered that widely reported rising rates of anxiety and depression across the US hide a countertrend of improved mental health among those who have found the slower pace of life under pandemic beneficial to their emotional well-being.

Consumers have aspired to a holistic vision of health and wellness for years, aware that well-being extends beyond treating surface-level symptoms of illness in the physical body. The past year brought into focus the threads connecting certain dimensions of health and wellness — in particular, links between body and mind as well as personal and community health. With these connections at the fore, consumers describe how inextricable these elements are and how vulnerabilities in one area put other areas at risk.

Key takeaway

There is a mainstream consensus on balance: balance between physical and mental health and balance between dietary discipline and enjoyment of a broad range of healthy (and sometimes indulgent) foods. 

The importance of mental health especially stands out for extending beyond the mainstream to even those consumers least likely to include H&W considerations in their diets and lifestyles.

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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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