The Origin and Value of the Well-Being Index

Jennifer Rudloff

In my last blog I defined well-being as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social health and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” a definition consistent with the World Health Organization’s definition of health as written in 1946. I also mentioned that it was this basic definition that helped give birth to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index® (WBI). Here, however, I’ll provide more information on the origin of the WBI, the value we’ve derived from it already, and the value we plan to derive well into the future.

Going back a few years, both Gallup and Healthways worked with the Center for Health Transformation, a collaboration of private and public sector leaders committed to creating a 21st century intelligent health system that saves lives and money for all Americans. Brought together by a common cause, Gallup and Healthways merged decades of behavioral research, development expertise and health leadership to lead the U.S. in its understanding of health and well-being and provide workable solutions for a healthier nation. In January 2008, we established a 25-year partnership for American health transformation.

What is the Well-Being Index? It’s the most ambitious effort ever undertaken to measure who is feeling good about life and who is in need of a helping hand. With well over a million surveys already collected, it provides a comprehensive, real-time view of Americans’ well-being, giving communities, governments, health plans and employers unmatched insight into the health and prosperity of their constituencies. The WBI draws upon data obtained from 1,000 in-depth representative surveys almost all days of each year. It’s the largest behavioral database in existence tracking life evaluation, emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior, work environment and basic access to necessities like food and shelter. As such it is, the “pulse of America.”

Our research has shown that total well-being is complex and has many interrelated factors that impact individuals. For an accurate measure of well-being, we must take a comprehensive approach. The WBI is the first survey that takes into account all factors that affect well-being and examines how they interrelate. It measures the nation’s collective responses and provides a benchmark. Healthways has leveraged the research from the WBI to create the Healthways Well-Being Assessment™, a tool that captures the well-being of an organization at a population and an individual level. I’ll talk more about this tool in a later post.

There are many values of the data we collect, including:

  • An up-to-date view of Americans’ ongoing well-being, with insight into work environment and social, emotional and physical health
  • Exploration into how well-being impacts health and productivity in the workplace and community to design programs that have higher yield
  • Cultivation of wellness in the workplace for a more productive, healthy, present and engaged workforce
  • Application of best practices to create a work culture and programs where well-being is paramount
  • An understanding of key drivers of well-being so organizations can make informed decisions and take the most appropriate actions to improve overall health, engagement, productivity and business performance.

In addition to our work in the U.S., we recently launched a WBI in the UK and Germany. In the U.S., we now have over 1.5 million surveys completed which has continued to help us define well-being and understand what improving it means, both in terms of health impact and personal/business performance.

I’ll provide much more on our findings and the topic of well-being in the months ahead. In the meantime, I hope this helps create a foundation for the science behind our work, how we collect data, and how we turn data into value.

Let me know how this sounds to you. Does this approach make sense? Do you see any gaps? Any other ideas on how we might use the data? We really want to know!

Topics: Well-Being Well-Being Index Metrics Healthways Gallup