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

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

KUALA LUMPUR: Policies that promote and facilitate health and overall wellness are vital for Asia and the Pacific’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said today.

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

“Wellness involves the pursuit of activities that lead to holistic health, happiness, and well-being,” said ADB chief economist Yasuyuki Sawada in relation to the Asian Development Outlook 2020 Update’s theme chapter, “Wellness in Worrying Times”, which examines wellness’s role to rebuild the human mind and body, and contribute to the economy.

 “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 said in a statement.

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 emphasises the importance of a lifespan approach to wellness to safeguard long-term mental and physical health.

ADB said governments in the region can support public infrastructure that promotes wellness including walkways, bicycle lanes, parks, recreation centres, and free sporting facilities.

This will increase the number of people who participate in recreational physical activities on a regular basis — currently at 33.2 per cent — making them healthier. 

It said public infrastructure and programmes for wellness are especially important for poorer Asians, who usually lack access to private wellness facilities such as fitness centres.

The bank said governments should also encourage healthy eating by improving consumer information and awareness of nutrition and diet. For instance, 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 per cent of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP). Pursuing universal health coverage can amplify the benefits of wellness for all Asians,” it said.

Lastly, ADB said, governments in Asia and the Pacific should strive to ensure a safe and healthy physical work environment for workers, especially in a post-COVID-19 scenario. In 2018, 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 (RM45.60) global average to $22 (RM91.18) — which could lead to increased productivity and output.

ADB points out that wellness is a big part of the global and regional economy, highlighting its potential role in post-COVID-19 recovery efforts. Wellness-related industries account for about 5 per cent of global GDP or US$4.5 trillion (RM18.16 trillion) in 2018, and about 11 per cent of developing Asia’s GDP in 2017 — and this is growing by about 10 per cent annually.

Wellness tourism, for instance, employed 3.74 million people in India, 1.78 million in China and 530,000 in Thailand in 2017.