A global study of consumer attitudes towards health found evidence for the “empowered consumer” hypothesis, that greater access to health information online is making people better advocates for and custodians of their own health.

The study, by HAVAS’ Euro RSCG Worldwide, found a greater sense of control and responsibility for health among consumers in general, and particularly among a vanguard group that the agency calls “prosumers.”

“Today’s consumers are far better informed and engaged in their health than were  consumers in the past,” said Euro RSCG New York chief strategic officer Tom Morton. “They are looking for brand partners to play a supportive role in their wellness quests, offering them not only effective and convenient products and tools but also little ‘nudges’ that push them in a healthier direction every day.”

Over half of the survey’s 7,213 respondents – 56% — said they have some or a lot of control over diseases in general, saying they could control, for example, whether they became obese, contracted a sexually transmitted disease or developed depression. Four in ten said employers should not be required to provide health coverage to employees who smoke, and 66% agreed with the statement “food is as effective as medicine in maintaining one’s overall health,” while 63% said they’re much more aware than they used to be of the nutritional value and health effects of the foods they eat.

Not that this is good news for the food industry, as only 37% said they trust food companies to provide them with healthful food and seven in ten expressing concerns about food safety.

Perhaps having absorbed recent findings about the placebo effect, four in ten respondents agreed that “most illness is psychosomatic,” and six in ten agreed that “powerful thoughts can help heal a person.”  

Euro’s VP, BETC Euro RSCG Marianne Hurstel said “Health is a category marked by tension. On one hand, Prosumers think that everyone is responsible for taking care of their own health and that most diseases, including cancer, diabetes and obesity, can be prevented through smart lifestyle choices. On the other hand, thanks to our ongoing financial insecurity and escalating healthcare costs, the financial consequences of irresponsible behaviors are increasingly scrutinized, from both an individual and a public perspective. Individuals who are sick pose a burden not just to themselves but very often also to their communities. This creates more pressure to pay attention to what you eat and how you live …. This is a new life approach that changes the way you think about yourself and provides more of a sense of solidarity with others. It blurs the frontier between individual freedom and public obligations, influencing people’s decisions with regard to their health.”

For the survey, dubbed “My body, myself, our problem: health and wellness in modern times,” the network surveyed 7,213 adults in 19 countries worldwide, representing a combined population of 3.6 billion.