Monday, January 3, 2011

Economy and Fatness

I truly believe that obesity and poor eating habits are related to many factors that involve lifestyle. Everyone has an excuse. Upon meeting a potential client where we discuss what efforts towards their goals they have produced thus far; I always hear a battery of excuses.

People really have a rehearsed litany of excuses upon meeting a fitness professional or some medical professional. Its can be attributed to a state of denial or character protection.  Whatever the case, most overweight people do not want to accept the responsibility of their fat levels and health status without relying on an uncontrollable factor. Most people--when placing blame--like to use a factor that they seem to have no control over and paint the picture that they are a victim of circumstance. Nothing new here. This takes place in many aspects of life--not just with fitness. Many of the excuses that are used in my career stem from  depression, lack of support, stress, traditional learned eating habits, poor time management, and poor socio-economics

Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to work in different areas of fitness; and I have experienced a notable relationship between the amount of income people make and their health status. In the last 6 years, I have worked from commercial to non-profit to corporate to private sectors and I have seen vast differences in physique make up. Let's look at 3 situations:

Non-Profit: In my days at the YMCA (a non profit organization), I noticed that many members were overweight and had very poor eating habits. YMCA's are recreational facilities that located within communities that house day care, fitness and wellness programs, sports, camps, and aquatics. In the past, YMCAs even accommodated the homeless with temporary housing. Many of the members a typical Y attracts are people in a medium income bracket (between 34K - 65K/year) and are younger families. Some YMCAs are notorious for also being home to the typical 87 year-old man that walks around the locker-room nude, but I guess you can find those anywhere.  In my time employed by the organization, I noticed the members tried to be active utilizing all the programs the Y had to offer, but it seemed the eating habits were always missing the mark. Gym use was always steady, but we never saw anyone lose a drastic amount of weight that made our (staff) heads' turn. It was safe to assume, that these members were active, but their eating habits reflected their middle-class incomes and in the end, calories burned were put right back into the body...sometimes in a surplus.

Corporate Fitness: When I moved on to corporate fitness, I noticed many individuals were eating "fair", but they were locked to their desks and cubicles most of the day. I noticed that they were very sedentary--even though the food selections they made could have been better, it was evident that they were not expending more calories than they were consuming. These people made a decent living; but worked hard and had very little time to use exercising in a gym (let along the gym was located on the campus). Can you say over-worked?
Many of these tired over-worked corporate employees choice unhealthy food as an emotional outlet. What I mean is, many of the workers (close to 4000) sat in duty cornered offices and looked to food as an "escape" from their mundane work life. Coupled with (forced) sedentary workdays, made this a very unhealthy lifestyle.

Private Sector: In the private country/golf club setting where 90% of the members live above the average family median income (200K and up) , I noticed many are very healthy and in good shape. Most members are not overweight, eat very well, and are very active by participating in sports including tennis, squash, and golf year round. Most food choices are high quality meats, greens, and prepared in customized dishes. I also realize that many of these members have more time during the day. Most work from home, own a company, or are homemakers. Most can afford personal training and exercise equipment for home. 

When I first started working with this target population, I was taken back at how life seemed so....easy. Lavish cars, expensive clothes, exotic vacations, and huge homes made this population very easy to work with. There was very low stress levels and although, I'm sure there are problems within each household, for the most part everyone was very pleasant. Selling personal training was actually very easy. Price was never an issue--time became the true obstacle. How much time can they dedicate to exercise between trips to the salon, financial advisor's office, brunch, or playing bridge with the ladies, or hitting a round of golf, or jumping on a private jet to Bermuda?

In the end, I think, we as fitness professionals, need to understand that there is a reason that people are overweight. It's not always as easy as saying someone is "fat and lazy". Understanding what situations people come from--whether it is socio-economics or family life/history--is the first means of addressing a fat loss client. 

In the end, the REAL question is: if you put a $10,000 in someone's pocket, what will they spend it on?


  1. In my neck of the woods, I've seen millionaire farmers be just as overweight as the minimum wage-barrier workers. Why? Because most of the farming done nowadays is with new technology that basically does the work for the farmer. GPS-guided tractors with auto-steer is part of the reason. Some don't even have to drive the machine, just watch & control buttons from the seat. I'm not lumping all farmers into this category, but all-in-all, there's a lot of sitting done in the profession, from sitting inside a truck to a tractor for hours a day. So, in some parts of the country, just because you have more money, you don't neccessarily take better care of your health concurrently. Although, when I did live in the metro area of Columbus, OH, I did see what you talk about here, John.

  2. It'd be nice if more people did choose to invest on themselves - whether it be on personal training, books, or any other kind of self-improvement for that matter!

    You don't have to go buy the newest HDTV or heaven forbid a $300 Wii!

  3. Rick,
    What you are saying is just farmers beomh lazy and doing the least amount of work to get the job done--thanks to technology. I see MILLIONARIEs that don't work and have tons of free time on their hands. they have teh time and means to hire and train, whereas the middle-class struggles with bills, gas, and oil.

  4. Ability to produce change is less of a factor than the desire. Economic levels of an individual manifest themselves more in the expectations a person has for him/herself than in the ability - be it time or money - to improve.
    A person towards the bottom of the ladder has typically become stagnant in pursuits to better their way of life. They have the time and money to make the changes but choose not to. Without resorting to laziness as a personal culprit, apathy and chronic self depreciation are very influential reasons many are in this category.
    A person in the middle can be stereotyped as having invested a lot to raise themselves to a status above the former example and wishes to make that distinction clear while likely still lacking the drive to elevate their standards above what is easily attainable.
    A person at the top is at an exponential level of self consciousness than those beneath.

  5. Great insight! Thans for commenting!


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