International Wellness Initiatives


Issue Brief, July 2015

Health is “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”1 Maintenance and promotion of health combines ongoing physical, mental, and social measures that result in wellness or an overall well-being when balanced. Wellness is “an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a more successful existence.”2 These choices include the use of preventive medicine, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), and lifestyle changes to counter poor diet, smoking, and lack of physical activity. In turn, these intervention efforts can help prevent the onset of chronic diseases and improve daily existence.

The care of the population’s health—in particular chronic diseases—is a current global health challenge affecting both developed and developing countries. It is a significant contributor to rising health care costs and a resulting reduction in economic output. In 2007, the Milken Institute estimated that seven major chronic diseases (i.e., cancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, pulmonary conditions, and mental illness) have an annual impact of $1.3 trillion, or 10 percent of the GDP, on the U.S. economy. Of that amount, 27 percent could be avoided by modest improvements in disease treatment and prevention over a 15-year period.3 Wellness initiatives and lifestyle changes can improve health and reduce these costs. Today, governments, businesses, employers, individuals, and other stakeholders recognize the value of wellness and have placed growing emphasis on awareness and implementation of wellness programs.

The American Academy of Actuaries’ Health Practice International Committee developed this issue brief to explore the potential effects of wellness initiatives based on four international case studies:

  • the public sector of Japan;
  • the tiered health sector of Israel;
  • the private insurance company Discovery of South Africa; and
  • global employer American Express’ programs in the U.S., India, U.K., and Mexico.



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