The Price of Fitness: Combating Obesity in Low-Income Populations


Like clockwork, the ball drops in Times Square on New Years’ Eve, and millions of Americans resolve to lose weight. They say, “This time, I’m motivated.” But, for many low-income Americans, it is not a lack of drive that keeps them from losing weight, but a lack of affordability and accessibility.

Losing weight is a three-legged stool: eating healthy, sleeping better, and exercising. In low-income communities, there are often programs addressing food intake and sleep habits, and yet, less effort has been made to resolve challenges around exercise.

According to a study conducted by Concordia University, individuals that earned less than $20,000 annually were 50% less likely to use exercise as a weight loss tool, compared to their higher earning counterparts. With a limited income, individuals cannot prioritize gym memberships, equipment, or exercise clothing over food, shelter, health care and basic necessities. It’s also an environmental issue; while walking or running outdoors is free, poorer neighborhoods are less likely to have resources for public parks or community programs, and individuals may also feel unsafe due to higher crime rates. Also, for exercise to be effective, it has to be consistent. Low-income individuals often work multiple jobs, leaving little time for exercise.

Obesity in low income populations - Healthify

The struggle of weight loss is significant. While adults are recommended to spend 2.5 hours per week exercising and doing strength training twice a week, in reality, less than 5% of adults actually meet these guidelines, according to a recent study by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Not surprisingly, the CDC reports that 2 out of 3 adults are considered either overweight or obese.

With the odds stacked against particular communities to get healthy, organizations like  Healthworks Community Fitness Center are trying to remove the hurdles low-income individuals face. Operating as a non-profit, Healthworks provides equipment, personal training, and fitness classes to women, and offers fees determined by individual income, rather than a standard fixed rate. The gym is located in a neighborhood where residents have a heightened risk of chronic disease, a life expectancy 20 years below the national average, and avoided exercising outdoors because they fear high levels of crime and traffic. In partnership with health care practices in the area, Healthworks is recommended and serves as an intervention to many overweight and obese individuals before they develop chronic weight-related illnesses.

Another non-profit, 3 WINS Fitness, is getting residents in the San Fernando, California area into shape. The organization offers free boot camps and is staffed by volunteer exercise science students from Cal State. The program, which is free for participants, attracts individuals with health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, and other diseases brought on by inactivity, and 3 WINS has proven effective at improving their health.

These programs showcase the importance of going beyond education when it comes to combating obesity.  

At Healthify, we are focused on coordinating services for low-income populations in order to better address the social determinants health. If you’re interested in learning how, please contact us below! 

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Topics: Healthify community-based organizations

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