But where harmony is preserved by the proper exercise, even old age is beautiful. To the well developed, to the strong, life seems rich, obstacles small, and successes easy. They laugh at cold and storm. Whatever the season may be, their hearts are filled with summer.

~Robert Green Ingersoll


At the 2015 Global Wellness Summit in Mexico City last month, economist Thierry Malleret delivered a keynote entitled, “Outlook for a World Where Wellness May Become Mandatory.”

Mandatory wellness?

How could wellness be mandatory? Who, exactly, will declare-and enforce, mandatory wellness? The Gestapo? Maybe we should back up a bit-what did Mr. Malleret mean by “mandatory” and what did he mean by “wellness?” Alas, he defined neither of these terms-and so nobody could assess whether he was describing a momentous development that was a real possibility or just blowing smoke. However, the data he cited and the overall focus of his remarks suggest that his understanding of wellness is pretty much the industry standard, that of preventing illness and disease.

A more accurate title would have been the outlook for mandatory prevention.

Nevertheless, the forecast was an attention-gripper. The talk offered included a sketch of global economic and other data for the decade ahead. Thanks to the generosity of the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), you can watch a video of the lecture and also download the slides, as well. Few organizations make their conference proceedings available to the public, as does the GWI; the organization deserves credit and appreciation for doing so.

What would motivate a nation, state, business organization or another other entity to declare that wellness (prevention, in this case) must be made mandatory? Would incentives be offered (besides employment) and, if so, would they be positive or punitive? As noted, Mr. Malleret did not address the nature of mandatory wellness which he expects will follow from the dire economic, population and other developments forecast for the coming decades.

Workplace Travails

Among the salient data that Mr. Malleret advised will be instrumental in bringing about an era of what he considers mandatory wellness by 2030 are the following:

Significant economic insecurity for the world’s 3.2 billion workers.

45 percent in low skill and manual jobs.

74 percent living on less than $ 13 a day.

Almost all stressed, unhappy, overweight and unsafe at work.

87 percent disengaged at work.

70 percent without insurance in event of work-related accidents or illnesses.

All growing rowing older, less healthy and “struggling” with physical wellbeing. (Who isn’t?)

18 percent over age 55.

(Sources: Gallup, Healthways and the International Labour Organization.)

Mr. Malleret also cited the costs of a lack of wellness (by which he seems to mean exhibiting all manner of medical conditions) at work. He mentioned hundreds of billions spent for chronic disease treatments, work-related injuries and illnesses, stress and disengagement at work. In the U.S. alone, $ 2.2 trillion or 12 percent of GDP is spent on these dysfunctions. (Sources: Milken Institute, UC-Davis, EU-OSHA and Gallup.)

The Road to Mandatory Wellness

Mr. Malleret identified seven factors that will lead to and accompany mandatory wellness:

Companies and governments will demand change due to rising costs and worsening health.

Wellness at work will explode across the world in the coming 5-10 years.

Workplace wellness programs (as we know them today) will no longer exist.

People will take more responsibility for their own wellness and how work affects it.

Companies that do not provide well working environments will not be able to recruit and retain good people.

Doing right by employees and the community is good business.

Governments will become more aggressive about mandating wellness, including in the workplace.

Assessing Mr. Malleret’s Vision of Mandatory Wellness

I once thought that a mild form of mandatory wellness might in time be a feasible possibility for company-based settings, if introduced artfully and conducted wisely, in stages. The assumption was that once someone experienced the positive returns from choosing wisely and succeeding at exuberant living over time, he/she would not have to be continually lured/rewarded or otherwise subsidized to think, choose and act in ways that benefitted multiple interests (i.e., the employer, the medical system and, most of all, the individual and his/her family). Mandatory wellness would be a pathway to a life-enriching mindset and lifestyle. I gave up this notion as unrealistic for a host of reasons, primarily the fact that no version of genuine REAL wellness could be imposed from without.

As Mr. Mallerot understands the wellness concept (prevention), mandatory “wellness” might work for a short time, but to make a difference it would have to be sustained over a period of years. It would also have to be characterized by positive results or pleasures associated with life-enhancing lifestyle choices.

Everyone I know who seems to be living a wellness lifestyle is not doing so because it’s mandatory.

If government or company enforced mandatory “wellness” that entailed requiring people to refrain from smoking, drinking too much, being overweight or obese or manifesting other negative problem areas, a huge Soviet-style bureaucracy would have to supervise the workforce. That kind of wellness would certainly not be wellness or even successful prevention and it certainly would not lead to increased levels of joy, delight, self-confidence, added meaning and purpose, more rational decision-making, a greater sense of personal freedom or even good diet and exercise patterns.

The Immediate Challenge

The first challenge for wellness promoters and for organizations that want to nudge human beings to take better care of themselves is to educate and promote an understanding of how wellness is different from and a giant step beyond prevention, or avoidance or treatment of illnesses.

It’s clear this has not happened yet.

The GWI and top-of-the-line experts like Mr. Mallerot do not yet separate and distinguish medical interventions, spa services and prevention education from the kinds of attitudes, knowledge and choices that enhance human existence. While Mr. Mallerot’s presentation was most informative and provocative, it would have been more helpful if he had provided sound definitions of wellness (and related terms).

Instead, he claimed there were “only two ways to fix the problems” enumerated in the high costs and other dysfunctions associated with the poor health habits of workers:

1. A sudden increase in productivity triggered by technology.

2. Preventive healthcare (a clumsy term for “prevention”) to reduce costs through wellness.

He described the first as “uncertain,” ergo, in his view, that seems to mean the second (prevention strategies) is “inevitable.” What’s not clear is why prevention will ever work better in the future than it has in the past.

Let’s hope that, in addition to prevention, REAL wellness awareness educational and other initiatives focused on boosting life quality-enhancing choices for their own inherent rewards will be promoted, as well.

I’ll go out on the proverbial limb and make a forecast of my own-“the future lies ahead.”

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