As the COVID-19 expanded peoples’ consciousness about infectious disease and opportunities to keep a tricky virus at bay, consumers grew new muscles about public and individual wellness…now, “more invested in achieving it,” according to In Health We Trust, a survey report from Healthline Media.
To gauge Americans changing perspectives on personal health, HealthLine conducted surveys among 1,533 U.S. consumers age 18 and over in February 2020 (just about the time the coronavirus pandemic was emerging in the U.S.) and 1,577 consumers in December 2020.
One of the subtle shifts in health care consumerism concerns cost, which before the pandemic has been a determinant in the U.S. to patients not seeking medical services due to cost. While self-rationing care due to cost has still been a feature of American health care economics during the COVID-19 pandemic (documented by The Commonwealth Fund, among other research studies), HealthLine found that between February and December 2020, fewer consumers were likely to consider the cost of care before a visit to the doctor.
This was true across all four age-cohorts HealthLine studied — Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z — with the biggest percentage shift among Millennials from 58% who considered cost of the visit pre-pandemic, to 47% who thought about cost post-pandemic.
It’s important to differentiate health-seeking behavior variation between generations: specifically, Gen Z consumers were more likely to go to the doctor as soon as possible to get prompt treatment (up from 17% pre-pandemic to 26% in December 2020) compared with Boomers, less likely to go to the doctor ASAP, down from 29% pre-COVID to 26% in the pandemic.
There persists health insurance insecurity, which is a particularly unique American scenario: only one-half of Americans are confident that health insurance will cover necessary care, especially low confidence among younger people Gen Z and Millennials, and women as well.
The latter, Boomers (who are older people), had greater interest in staying safe at home versus seeking care in a doctor’s office.
Health and wellness are having a moment, HealthLine observes. In the pandemic, more people aspired to be their “better selves” for health and wellness, with 3 in 5 people saying they sought to make changes for the better compared with 2 in 5 folks who felt “at peace” with where they were. The former, those wishing to make behavior changes, grew in force up 11% points, while those satisfied with their health-making status quo shrunk by 13 percentage points.
Changing health behaviors is hard work even without a pandemic setting the environment to do so, and there were unique obstacles in 2020 to making those changes. HealthLine found the biggest change in an obstacle to healthy lifestyles in the pandemic was the lack of access to fitness facilities, up 55%. Still, 75% of Americans said they were exercising, and 48% doing so regularly.
But the cost of healthy living declined as an obstacle to changing behavior by 19% points. This led to HealthLine’s observation that, “when it comes to your health, treat yo’self!” (quoted directly from the report).
Health consumers made other changes for healthy living during the pandemic, such as cooking more at home and eating well: 65% of Americans wanted to eat a healthy diet, and nearly 50% of people in the U.S. were cooking more at home by December 2020.
As shopping via ecommerce grew in 2020, with 200 million Amazon Prime members worldwide reached by now according to Jeff Bezos’s annual 2020 letter to shareholders, certain health-oriented buys were purchased in big numbers during the pandemic. These were notably vitamins/minerals/supplements, purchased by 64% of Americans, and skin care products for 43% of people.
Bottom-line, by December 2020, HealthLine observed that health embodies, “non-negotiable gravitas” and “ubiquity and foreverness.”
Health Populi’s Hot Points: While 2020 was our Year of COVID, 2021 will be our Year of Vaccines and Vaccinations and post-COVID anxiety.
Concurring with other pandemic-era studies, HealthLine found significant anxiety and stress among health citizens, with mental health drivers seeing a “jump” since early 2020, pre-pandemic.
What’s causing stress are finance and debt, and job concerns — the top two stressors — but the proportions of people calling these out as the top stressors have declined 12% and 9%, respectively.
Two other drivers of stress are growing in the pandemic era — mental health conditions for 30% of people (up 12%) and loneliness for 30% (up 12% as well).
Two other key drivers of stress have been political and environmental issues, up 39% in the coronavirus crisis.
Relationship stress in the pandemic has been a double-edged sword: while relationships with friends and family have been a top priority for 63% of people in the U.S., 39% of folks identified relationships as their main source of stress.
Overall of us, 66% (that is 2 in 3 of us in the U.S.) say we’re anxious or depressed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thus, mental health is taking center stage, HealthLine asserts — with stress levels not changing so much, but the nature of the stressors driving our anxiety changing.
Younger people have been dealing with greater stress: 40% of Gen Z adults feel the most stress, and that has been growing in the pandemic. Boomers have been the least stressed, and their stress was declining in 2020.
We saw telehealth for mental health fast-grow in the pandemic era, with many new digital tools and apps help scale services to people who previously had unmet demand for mental health services but poor supply in their communities.
Virtual care platforms have helped get people who needed mental health services care to them in the pandemic, and this flavor of telehealth has sustained and persisted since April 2020 when providers quickly pivoted to mental health services at-a-distance.
In addition, some people are taking advantage of their faith-based institutions and religious communities to help them deal with their pandemic anxiety and stress.
This is particularly resonant with the Black community in the U.S., one-half of whom told HealthLine that prayer has been part of their regular lifestyle.
At the same time, lack of access to worship services has been challenging for those people who had regularly partaken in in-person prayer pre-pandemic.
This last graphic from the HealthLine report, notes that “health content is everywhere….and it’s here to stay.”
Remember that content is indeed (or can be embedded) everywhere people trust: including in faith-based institutions, in schools, in grocery stores, at the YMCA, and at other trustworthy touchpoints in everyday lives.