Outsourcing Perspiration

Americans with the right economic and time resources are increasingly outsourcing their own perspiration and fueling a boom in personal fitness training. The U.S. health club industry generated revenues of $22 billion in 2012 from 58 million Americans who participate. Despite the great recession, membership has grown 10% since 2008. Says Frank Bruni in a recent New York Times commentary:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than 234,000 people employed in the category of “fitness trainers and aerobics instructors” in 2012, an increase of about 40 percent from 10 years earlier and a robust exception to a stagnant or deteriorating job market along most other vectors of American life. This is our great nation’s future: an army of men and women in lululemon apparel, barking about the importance of a “strong core” and meaning muscle, not character.

Salutation Nation

With an obesity prevention agenda under the sunny “Let’s Move” banner, we’re doing quite well at mobilizing an advantaged population to get moving and consuming healthy foods from farmers’ markets and high-end food retailers. When we talk to legislators who are passionate about obesity, more often than not we get their personal story about a daily routine that starts with a trip to the gym.

But how relevant are these models to people who are short on time and money? For these people, severe obesity continues to be a growing problem.

Not very, if you look at data on economic disparities, time poverty, health, and obesity. Speaking at Harvard recently, George Bray pointed out how closely the growth in obesity prevalence has followed growing income disparity. And in a recent publication in Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, Charlene Kalenkoski and Karen Hamrick found that time-poor individuals are less likely to engage in active travel (cycling or walking) and they spend dramatically less time on sports and exercise.

So perhaps we need to work on the evidence base for interventions that work to prevent obesity in these populations. The lululemon crowd seems to have it under control.

Click here to read Bruni’s commentary in the New York Times, click here to read the publication by Kalenkoski and Hamrick, and click here to read more about obesity and income disparity.

Sweat, photograph © Vox Efx / flickr

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