Promoting wellness key to developing Asia’s post-COVID-19 recovery: ADB

Policies that promote and facilitate health and overall wellness are vital for Asia-Pacific’s recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, according to the Asian Development Outlook (ADO) 2020 Update released by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

On top of the obvious health risks, the report says that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased inactivity, stress, and anxiety as lockdowns and layoffs heighten isolation, uncertainty and economic hardships.

The theme chapter, Wellness in Worrying Times, examines how wellness can help rebuild the human mind and body, and contribute to rebuilding the economy.

“Wellness involves the pursuit of activities that lead to holistic health, happiness, and well-being,” ADB Chief Economist Yasuyuki Sawada said.

“The pandemic has had a significant negative impact on physical and mental health, and governments should incorporate wellness-promoting policies into their recovery plans to promote economic growth that will benefit both individuals and society,” he added.

The report identifies a set of wellness measures across a range of policy domains including a healthy built environment, public infrastructure for physical recreation, healthy diet and nutrition, and a safe and healthy work environment.

It explores how measures in these areas can contribute towards the region’s recovery from the pandemic and emphasizes the importance of a lifespan approach to wellness to safeguard long-term mental and physical health.

The report says that governments in the region can support public infrastructure that promotes wellness including walkways, bicycle lanes, parks, recreation centers, and free sporting facilities.

“This will increase the number of people who participate in recreational physical activities regularly, currently at 33.2 percent, making them healthier. Public infrastructure and programs for wellness are especially important for poorer Asians, who usually lack access to private wellness facilities such as fitness centers,” the report says.

The report also urges governments to encourage healthy eating by improving consumer information and awareness of nutrition and diet.

For instance, it says that some governments in the region are already imposing higher taxes on sugary drinks and tobacco products, combined with regulations on nutritional information disclosure for food and beverage products and public awareness campaigns.

“This is important given that annual direct medical costs due to obesity are estimated at 0.8 percent of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP). Pursuing universal health coverage can amplify the benefits of wellness for all Asians,” adds the report.

Lastly, the report says that governments in Asia-Pacific should strive to ensure a safe and healthy physical work environment for workers, especially in a post-COVID-19 scenario.

In 2018, the report says that an estimated 2.3 million people died from work-related accidents and diseases worldwide, with the region accounting for over two-thirds of the total.

The report notes that workers’ happiness can improve by 0.15 units (on a scale of 1 to 10) if per capita workplace wellness spending doubles from the 11 U.S. dollars global average to 22 U.S. dollars, which could lead to increased productivity and output.

“Wellness is a big part of the global and regional economy, highlighting its potential role in post-COVID-19 recovery efforts,” the report says.

According to the report, wellness-related industries account for about 5 percent of global GDP or 4.5 trillion U.S. dollars in 2018, and about 11 percent of developing Asia’s GDP in 2017, and this is growing by about 10 percent annually.