Today marks the end of the second Wellness Week in the Americas. All indications show that is has been a success; a success built on numerous grassroots activities throughout the region that understand that healthy living starts with simple things – removing salt shakers from the table, using stairs instead of the elevator, improving school feeding programmes or buying local fresh products instead of processed food.

Wellness Week, co-organized by the World Economic Forum and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), seeks to promote healthy living in cities and towns through “healthy fun” events that have a serious purpose: raise awareness and halt the rising incidence of such non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as obesity, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

The idea of Wellness Week was inspired by Caribbean Wellness Day. It was further incubated within the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Chronic Diseases and Well-Being under the leadership of Dr Mirta Roses and then first launched in September 2011 in New York City during the UN High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases. Mayors of major cities joined in organizing actions, messages, popular marches; private and public sectors and civil society joined forces to bring healthy living to citizens across the region.

At this past Monday’s celebratory event, ministers of health shared the excitement and discussed opportunities that Wellness Week could bring in future years to come. Its continued success depends on three pillars of innovation:

First, Wellness Week thrives on multistakeholder collaboration. The costs of NCDs over the next 20 years are estimated at US$ 30 billion of output loss. This is equivalent to 50% of annual GDP in 2010. These costs are unsustainable. What is more striking is that these are not only healthcare costs, but affect all sectors. Thus, all actors, including non-health public and the private sector, have to be part of the solution. Wellness Week is a perfect example of how inclusive collaboration ultimately depends on active citizens.

Second, Wellness Week works because it combines the impact of bottom-up approaches with top-down policies and programmes. It brings the local and global together, empowering all of us in our roles as parents, workers, community members or government officials to contribute to healthier lifestyles and a healthier society.

And finally, Wellness Week is unique because, already in its second year, it is the starting a social movement. History has proof of how social movements can deliver true change, and Wellness Week provides us all the opportunity of being part of a global movement.

Last year during its first launch, we wondered if Wellness Week would stick. Today, and with all the hundreds of planned activities during this week, we had the confirmation that it is growing and is here to stay.

Author: Eva Jané-Llopis is Director of Health Programmes at the World Economic Forum.

Image: People participate in an early morning yoga session in Le Bois de la Cambre in Brussels. REUTERS/Yves Herman