Cost of living takes toll on New Zealanders' wellbeing
The current economic uncertainty is affecting more than New Zealanders’ pockets, according to the latest Southern Cross Healthy Futures Report, with the cost of living crisis directly impacting both physical and mental wellbeing.
Southern Cross, in conjunction with research partner Kantar (formerly Colmar Brunton), has spoken to more than 5,000 New Zealanders since 2019 to inform the biennial study, which shines a light on the nation’s physical, mental, and social health and wellbeing.
According to the latest results , budgetary stresses are affecting New Zealanders in a variety of ways, from changing how they purchase food and prepare meals to impacting their sleep and exercise patterns.
With 93 per cent of people noting the cost of living as their highest concern – a figure that’s up seven per cent since the last Healthy Futures report in 2020 – Chief Medical Officer of Southern Cross’ insurances arm, Dr Stephen Child, said it’s no surprise that so many health and wellbeing behaviour changes can relate back to financial pressures.
“While our inaugural Healthy Futures Report in 2020 found that the influences on New Zealanders’ health and wellbeing were increasingly varied, this latest research shows how firmly global economic pressures are trickling down to impact so many parts of our lives,” he said.
“The cost of living, combined with the stress and anxiety that comes from such financial uncertainty, influences people’s nutrition choices, the amount of sleep we get, and finding the motivation or energy for exercise.
“Of course, this then affects physical health, which in turn further impacts mental health or vice versa - and so a detrimental wellbeing cycle is set in motion that can be difficult to bring back to equilibrium. As a nation, these results are concerning.
“Certain demographics are feeling the pinch more than others. People living with disability or illness are most likely to be concerned about their financial situation which leads to worries about being able to afford to be healthy and having their sleep disrupted by anxiety or stress. The report also shows significant financial impacts being felt by university students, young families and caregivers,” said Dr Child.
The Healthy Futures Report shows most New Zealanders (79 per cent) now perceive healthy food to be expensive, up seven per cent from 2020.
In a likely response to these rising prices, people are increasingly planning meals in advance, cooking more from scratch, reducing portions/calories, and reducing the amount of meat and sugar in their diets. This is more common among older adults and retirees who may be feeling the pinch of financial pressures. There are also fewer people drinking alcohol, with 38 per cent saying they don’t consume any at all – up four per cent on 2020.
Meanwhile, more than half of New Zealanders still feel they’re not getting enough sleep, at an average of 6.94 hours per night. The main reasons people identified as impacting their sleep were having a high mental load and feeling anxious or stressed.
As far as those anxieties go, global events and issues like the economic impact of Covid-19 are the number one issue affecting the emotional wellbeing for two thirds of New Zealanders (66 per cent), rising 16 per cent in two years. Sixty-three per cent of people are also worried about whether their children will cope with the pressures of life – an increase of eight per cent.
The widespread effects of the cost of living can also be found in other areas of the report. Cost was identified as the biggest barrier to accessing healthcare services by 34 per cent of people. This is especially the case for university students at 59 per cent.
Dr Child says the research shows many New Zealanders are aware of what good health and wellbeing looks like but are concerned about how they can achieve that in the current economic climate.
“Southern Cross launched this research to better understand New Zealanders’ attitudes and behaviours, and to use the insights to help people actively advance their health and wellbeing. We want to provide more access to health and wellbeing education, skills and resources that are relevant to people, no matter what their life stage is or how far along their health and wellbeing journey they are.“Southern Cross has been caring for New Zealanders for more than 60 years and we believe they should have ongoing access to health and wellbeing options for themselves and their whānau. We hope that shining a light on the issues that matter most to New Zealanders, and offering relevant health and wellbeing support, will help people to feel empowered amidst the ongoing financial and health challenges facing our communities,” said Dr Child.
Southern Cross Healthy Futures Report 2022 - Key Insights
- Although the majority of New Zealanders are happy with their mental wellbeing, there has been a slight dip in the past two years – down two points to 62 per cent.
- Increasing concerns about global events are affecting the emotional health and wellbeing of New Zealanders (up 16 points to 66 per cent), and 63 per cent of people also worry about whether their children will cope with the pressures of life – up eight per cent in the past two years.
- The cost of living is the single biggest issue for 93 per cent of people (up from 86 per cent in 2020), 89 per cent are concerned about the economic impact of Covid-19, while 85 per cent are concerned about affordable housing.
- The average New Zealander exercises for 30 minutes, three times a week. Energetic housework remains the most popular form of exercise (at 39 per cent), while gym memberships and team sports have dipped (down two per cent and three per cent, respectively), likely due to Covid-19 restrictions and budgetary considerations.
- Most New Zealanders perceive healthy food to be expensive, increasing from 72 per cent to 79 per cent.
- The number of people cooking from scratch and meal planning have both increased four per cent since 2020, to 58 per cent and 64 per cent, respectively.
- 38 per cent of people say they don’t consume any alcohol, up four per cent from 2020.
- The number of people seeking general health and wellbeing information from friends/whānau and websites/online articles has dropped in the past two years – down 16 per cent to 30 per cent and 13 per cent to 50 per cent, respectively.
- Health professionals such as GPs remain the most trusted source of health information when people are physically unwell, but the number of people turning to pharmacists for advice when they’re sick has doubled in two years – up 11 per cent to 22 per cent.
- Healthline and other helplines have also seen an increase in people contacting them, up six points to 16 per cent, likely due to the significant role they’ve played during the pandemic response.
- Cost remains the biggest barrier to accessing healthcare services (34 per cent), even more so for university students (59 per cent). Twenty-five per cent of New Zealanders say long wait times are also a barrier to receiving healthcare.
1 Healthy Futures Report 2022. Fieldwork was conducted by Kantar in March 2022 with a sample of 2000. A total of 5,007 people from across New Zealand have taken part in the Healthy Futures study since 2019.