Health and well-being is often conflated within the industry but, as a recent event heard, a broader definition of well-being is emerging, one that prioritises health while still accommodating other factors.
Merck's Global Consumer Health Debate, held last month in the German company's home city of Darmstadt, centred on a women's health and well-being study carried out for the company by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
The EIU report surveyed over 450 female consumers last year from five countries that spanned developed and developing economies - France, Germany, India, Mexico and Brazil. This work was then buttressed by an additional survey of 100 public officials with responsibility for, or knowledge or, their department's programmes on women's health and well-being, with respondents evenly divided among the five target countries.
The report confirmed that the main factor in well-being remains physical health, but other factors are also considered, although the precise mix of these factors varies with personal circumstances and location.
For 64% of respondents well-being meant 'feeling healthy and physically fit', with those at lower income levels placing the most emphasis on basic human needs like food and security. Among those who deemed themselves financially very secure, some 90% said they felt 'excellent' or 'good' in their daily lives - a percentage that plummeted to just 26% among those who said that they were always financially insecure.
The study also found that, beyond physical health, factors influencing a women's sense of well-being included: a sense of accomplishment, emotional security, optimism for the future for themselves and their family and financial security.
Presenting the findings at the Global Consumer Health Debate Aviva Freudmann, director of the EIU, Germany noted that a broader definition of well-being was emerging, but she added that currently there was little evidence that women's well-being was improving.
The survey's presentation was the starting point for a wider debate about women's well-being, its measurement and management.
Prof. Dr Hilke Brockmann from the Jacobs University Bremen, Germany, said: “The key question addressed by the EIU report is how to approach the subjective and objective nature of well-being. The solution lies in a new way of comparing well-being between life stages and cultures, taking into account that the concept of well-being sometimes - as shown by the EIU report - relies more on perception than precise factors.”
For Merck itself women's health and well-being was at the centre of its strategic priorities in healthcare. Belén Garijo, a member of the Merck Executive Board and CEO Healthcare, said: “As a leading provider of healthcare products and services, we sponsor several corporate responsibility initiatives aimed to help protect and improve the health status of our female employees, as well as actively participate in worldwide private-public partnerships to address women's healthcare needs in developed and developing countries.”
One of the themes that emerged from the Merck-sponsored EIU report was the mismatch between women's views on well-being and those of public officials, who placed more emphasis on physical health (74% to 64% of the women surveyed) and emotional (51% to 39%) and financial security (31% to 21%). In contrast more women than public health officials picked a sense of accomplishment (45% to 26%) and optimism for the future for themselves and their family (23% to 3%).
Sanghita Bhattacharyya, senior public health specialist at the Public Health Foundation of India, said: “Public health policy has paid limited attention to the well-being of women beyond their reproductive years. This in itself is a manifestation of gendered expectations, where even decision-makers have not looked at women beyond their roles as mothers and caregivers.
“Beyond a narrow elite, there is little sign in India that women themselves are becoming more active in managing their health and well-being.”
Garijo concluded: “Women's health and well-being is a global concern, but not one that can be addressed with a global approach. It needs rigorous stratification of population needs.”