A successful new Chinese healthcare company is building its business by eschewing traditional weight-loss approaches that trigger anxiety and feelings of inadequacy and promoting personalized programs that instead foster self-acceptance and realistic strategies for happiness and well-being.
Founded in late 2019 in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province, the Hunan Echin Health Management Co. Ltd. was founded by a small team of entrepreneurs who were troubled by the proliferation of companies aggressively pushing “wellness“ schemes that prioritized profits over the physical and psychological health of their clients, mostly women under the age of 50. They felt strongly that both ethical practices and robust medical plans drawing upon the respective strengths of both Western and traditional Chinese medical (TCM) concepts could change the landscape of Chinese healthcare for women in a positive fashion.
Echin‘s personal health managers construct personalized programs for clients that are designed together with nutritionists, sports coaches, Western and TCM doctors, and mental health counselors. These programs utilize some Western anti-obesity medicines such as Orlistat, but they also incorporate the inclusion in the clients‘ diet of fermented fruit and vegetable drinks, natural dietary fibers, and soybean extracts.
In addition to addressing obesity, Echin also treats conditions such as insomnia and menstrual irregularity, as well as chronic diseases— diabetes, hypertension, and chronic gastrointestinal disease.
Jingjing Liu is a member of the founding team who felt especially motivated to provide young Chinese women with new and innovative wellness alternatives to those dominating the market. “So many of my peers dread not being ‘good enough‘ or ‘slim enough‘ or even ‘likable,‘” she says. “That perfect figure in commercials has sensitized us to our flaws, as we chase the impossible idea of perfection. This is not healthy and therefore not a viable solution, because chronic stress generated by fear erodes good health and well-being, physically and psychologically. Something has to change.“ She notes that nearly 70% of Echin‘s clients are women.
Liu points out that the prevalence of new media in China provides Echin with direct access to the audience they want to reach: as of December 2020, there were 989 million internet users in China, almost all of them using mobile internet on a regular basis. This provides Echin a way to circumvent the often-overloaded and ineffective medical establishment and speak directly to young, savvy consumers who are looking for what Liu calls “an authentic healthy lifestyle,“ as well as to those seeking treatment for chronic disease management.
A New York-based NGO, Worldview Global Impact (WGI), has been working with Liu to further refine and sharpen the company‘s approach. WGI Co-Chair Jasmine Wang says that Echin can do a great deal to give individuals control of their lives and help them focus on genuine well-being rather than superficial and stress-inducing body envy. “Advertisers have successfully manipulated a rarefied version of ‘an average person‘ into the minds of the public,“ Wang points out. “This pollution of headspace can devastate people‘s sense of self. The fierce desire to be slimmer or better-looking has been normalized for the sake of amassing huge profits. Is that ethical? I doubt it.“
In fiscal year 2020, Echin generated revenues of RMB 200 million (approximately $31 million), with a net profit of 15%. The company now employs over 1300 people and hopes its innovative business model will enable it to reach even more Chinese clients in the coming years.
Liu is fond of quoting Theodore Roosevelt‘s maxim: “Comparison is the thief of joy.“ She sees a bright future for Echin though popularizing “self-acceptance“ as a guiding principle for its consumers. “We would rather help our clients achieve a state of being healthy and happy in an imperfect shape, rather than feeding a morbid obsession with achieving a flawless figure.“