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The National Wellness Institute, Inc. (NWI) was officially formed in 1977, but held two wellness symposiums (1975 and 1976) prior to the official organizational launch. Originally, the organization was launched under the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) Foundation, as the Institute for Lifestyle Improvement. Three UWSP faculty at that time—Dennis Elsenrath, EdD, CWP, director of counseling services; Fred Leafgren, PhD, director of student life; and Bill Hettler, MD, CWP, director of health services—joined together with the idea that we, as humans, could live better, healthier lives through the principles of balance and awareness. In 1976, Dr. Hettler released what was to become the base philosophy for the National Wellness Institute: the Six Dimensions of Wellness model. The six dimensions are intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, occupational, and physical. By balancing these six dimensions and actively seeking to improve them, the organization's founders believed individuals could improve their overall well-being.

In 1985, the name of the organization was changed to the National Wellness Institute to reflect a more global mission. Then, in 1988, NWI separated from the UWSP Foundation and applied for its own nonprofit status, which was granted August 3, 1989. The National Wellness Institute is a registered 501(c)(3) organization headquartered in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

Each summer NWI welcomes well-minded individuals to its annual National Wellness Conference. Patch Adams, Geoffrey Canada, Mike Huckabee, Naomi Judd, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., David Katz and many other notable individuals have given voice to the wellness movement at the National Wellness Conference. The NWI Foundation, launched in 2003, has actively brought individuals to the National Wellness Conference on scholarships.

Programmatically, NWI began accrediting undergraduate health promotion and wellness programs in 2008. It began certifying professional wellness practitioners in early 2009. Today the organization has an active membership and educational outreach program and continues to expand its offerings to meet the growing needs of wellness professionals globally.

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