“Only rich people can afford personal trainers.” “The fitness instructors are all in shape; they wouldn’t understand me and probably can’t help.” How many times have we overheard snippets of conversations like these?
It may be in the gym locker room, the local coffee shop, or waiting in line for a movie. Even as the wellness industry reports skyrocketing interest, as is evidenced by gym memberships, personal training sessions, fitness apps for the cell phone, and “Biggest Loser” competitions in the workplace, it is vital for us to recognize an often neglected but very important population, those individuals who simply are not equipped to jump on the health and fitness bandwagon. For many years now, researchers have delved into the myriad of causes for obesity, defined as presenting with a BMI of 30 or greater. Multiple factors can work together to create a predisposition toward obesity. While genetics may account for up to 50% of an individual’s body weight, lifestyle choices and behaviors must not be ignored. Inadequate exercise, poor food choices, and a higher caloric intake than is necessary will all contribute to an individual’s overall wellness, or the lack thereof. To fitness professionals, this is certainly not news. However, social scientists have now entered the obesity research arena, and are pointing to some potential causes of obesity in our society that many of us may have never considered. According to a recent article published in the Journal of Health Promotion, women who are less educated are at a far greater risk of becoming obese than those with more schooling, even within the same low socioeconomic status. While researchers have discovered that women residing in areas with fewer economic resources tend to have higher BMIs than their female counterparts who live in more affluent communities, this is by no means the end of the story. A group of scientists in Australia studied 4,000 women between the ages of 18 and 45, who lived in low-income towns and suburbs. The data collected included the subjects’ height, weight, highest level of education completed, and personal income. While these parameters may seem disparate, income and education are often used as hallmarks when studying health inequalities.
The data collected seems to indicate that women living in disadvantaged neighborhoods with both low levels of education and personal income may be at a higher risk for obesity than females who completed more years of education, yet are also living within the same confines of very low socioeconomic conditions. Education, it would seem, may be a key factor in an individual’s access to health information, capacity to comprehend such information, and ability to integrate such knowledge into daily life, such as information on nutrition. While it has often been postulated that obesity occurs because low-income individuals possess insufficient resources to purchase high-quality food, this study’s results suggest an alternative premise: that it is education, and not solely income, that limits one’s ability to eat mindfully and live in a healthy manner. Academic achievements which place individuals higher on the educational curve seem to confer the ability to integrate healthy behaviors into a coherent lifestyle, provide a sense of control over one’s health, and render one more likely to pass on said healthy habits to family members, especially children.
Armed with this new information, how can we translate it into becoming a key factor at the forefront of our society’s obesity prevention initiatives? Recognizing that individuals such as those who took part in the aforementioned research study are certainly not likely to walk into a lavishly-appointed fitness center and request the services of a personal trainer, it is incumbent upon us to integrate ourselves into underserved communities. Offering to speak at a town-hall-type venue, explaining in very basic terms how one can indeed make good food choices and adopt a healthy lifestyle even with a minimum of education and available resources, can be far more valuable to the public than we may realize. Teaming up with a nutrition specialist might make for a well-rounded and balanced talk, especially if questions are encouraged.
The lessons we impart may have a significant impact on the health and well-being of this overlooked yet vitally important population. While we may not be able to affect great change in the socioeconomic position of these individuals, arming them with knowledge can propel them forward in life, and that is a wonderful gift.
6. Lauren K. Williams, Nick Andrianopoulos, Verity Cleland, David Crawford, and Kylie Ball (2013) Associations Between Education and Personal Income With Body Mass Index Among Australian Women Residing in Disadvantaged Neighborhoods. American Journal of Health Promotion: September/October 2013, Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 59-65.
About the Author
Cathleen Kronemer is an AFAA-Certified Group Exercise Instructor, NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, competitive bodybuilder and freelance writer. She is employed at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis, MO. Cathleen has been involved in the fitness industry for 22 years. Look for her on www.WorldPhysique.com, and feel free to contact her here.
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