Poverty and Exercise

I watched an eye-opening segment on NBC Nightly News about Latino women in Phoenix who joined a local fitness program. It covered, briefly, several aspects of why Latino women have a higher-than-average obesity rate in this country, including their traditional roles as caregivers and their traditional diets. But what struck me most was the part about exercise. The women interviewed lived in poor neighborhoods and didn’t feel safe walking for exercise. Instead, they went to places like Big Lots or WalMart and walked around the store’s parking lots.

Wow. Slap me in the face.

I didn’t realize until that moment how much I take exercise for granted. And shame on me. Shame, shame on me. I pissed and moaned this morning – in my office which doubles as my exercise room – that I didn’t have the energy to work out. I was “tired.” I didn’t “feel like it.” I was behaving like a spoiled brat. My desk sits next to an elliptical machine and stationary bike. My hand weights are stacked against the wall, as is my barbell. But still….wahhh! Big baby me didn’t “feel” like exercising.

Poverty and obesity are separate subjects and yet interconnected. Obesity rates among the those living in poverty is substantially higher than middle- and upper-class families. Eating right and exercise is the least of their concerns, and yet the women in Phoenix were changing their way of thinking and behaving. It’s just that the odds were stacked against them. The things I take for granted are beyond their reach and yet, they persevere.

I found Poverty News Blog tonight as I searched for more information on this phenomenon. The statistics regarding statewide childhood obesity rates was particularly alarming in the blog entry “Poverty Fuels Obesity Rates.” Children and adults need access to affordable and safe exercise opportunities. We can’t solve our country’s obesity problem, particularly in light of this economic crisis, if the poorest among us don’t have the opportunity to move, to feel not only the physical but the psychological affects of exercise.

As more fast food restaurants and fewer grocery stores invade the poorest of neighborhoods, how do we stem the tide of obesity? This is all off the top of my head, a reaction to a news story, so I don’t have any answers, only questions, and I’m asking you for your input. In this season of giving, we might not have a lot to give, but where can our resources best be utilized, those of us who believe fitness should be accessible to everyone? I’d appreciate any feedback you have.

As for me and my whining about exercising…I’m still ashamed, but I’ll use the energy of it to spur me into action and a new way of thinking.

Your thoughts?

18 thoughts on “Poverty and Exercise

  1. Saw somewhere, maybe on a blog or tv show, that in some other countries there are public “gym” type areas, where there are outdoor modified fitness machines for public use. Wouldn’t that be great to have here in the obesity capital of the world?

  2. This is a subject that really hits close to home for me. My mother-in-law, 69 years old, lives in public housing and only receives her small SSI check. Once her bills are paid and she buys her household necessities, she is lucky if she has $50 a month left.Thankfully, the “project” she lives in is very safe and secure. It has it’s own Community Policing so she is able to walk for exercise and still feel safe. However, it’s the groceries that get her. She only qualifies for $78 a month in foodstamps. Add that to her $50 left from her check and that is not much to live off of for an entire month. My husband and I try to help her out as much as possible. I grocery shop once every two weeks for our house. Each time I go, I always pick her up fresh fruits and veggies, bread, milk and water. She doesn’t live far from us so I make sure I cook extra for dinner each night and we bring it to her.I honestly do not know how she would make it otherwise. It’s a shame, but healthy food is so darn expensive.

  3. I don’t understand why junk food is cheaper than healthier food. When a person is short on cash and has to make it lasts their only option is high fat unhealthy food. Fresh fruit and veggies are very expensive. In the state of the current economy I think there are more people feeling the pinch than ever before. It is very sad that they cannot even safely walk in their neighborhoods. It does put things in perspective and make you be a little more thankful…

  4. I was having one of those days also Lynn. I could not get up and go to the gym and I feel rather bad for it. So today is a new one and I WILL be take advantage of being able to go and exercise. I think a public “gym” or area where it is safe for everyone who cannot afford or who does not feel safe working out is a great idea. I have some friends who cannot afford the gym or who do not like to work out alone so I try and walk with them as much as I can so they feel safer and at least we are all getting our work out together.What a great post! Makes you realize just how lucky we are sometimes.Marahttp://24stepstogo.blogspot.com/

  5. I listened to a radiothon last week that was raising food for the local food bank. They specifically asked that people not bring in the oodles of noodles and higher fat products that they normally bring in. This food bank not only gives out food to the needy, they put together back packs of food for kids to take home over each weekend so they don’t go hungry. They tried to aim for healthy options for kids like oatmeal, granola bars, fresh fruit and veggies, and real juices. They had mothers on that told that for them there was no way they could afford the gallon of milk for almost $5 a gallon when the store brand soda was $1 for a three liter bottle. They were just concerned with making sure the kids didn’t go hungry, not making sure their nutritional needs were met. It says alot about our country that for $1 at McDonalds you can get a huge double cheeseburger or chicken sandwich, but for a salad and juice you have to shell out a minimum of $7! Sorry, but this subject hit pretty hard not only when I heard that but read what you wrote! We as concerned members of society need to work together to fix this problem!

  6. I grew up in a small, rural town in Nebraska and I know I definitely took for granted the fact that I could walk outside by myself at night! It is sad to think that there are people there aren’t able to be even outside their home, for fear of their safty.As far as the food issue, keeping produce stocked continually does get expensive. It’s rather interesting that the junk food is the food that is the cheapest in the stores to buy.

  7. I was pounding away on the elliptical trainer one night–hating every minute of it and whining inside, when I realized that this is nothing compared to the physical exertion that my Dad had to do on the farm to make a living. He’d come in dirty, sweat-covered and exhausted–because he HAD to do it. And here I was whining because I was doing it by CHOICE because I’d allowed myself to be lazy and gain the weight in the first place. In reference to obesity and poverty . . . I work in a large university where a professor and his Ph.D. students are studying several factors related to obesity and African-American women. Now I want to look at the dissertations a little more closely–I’ll send you anything that looks particularly interesting.

  8. I really want to thank you for putting this post up. So many people out there (and in the blogsphere) have been well off their whole life so to them they don’t understand how insanely difficult it is to be poor (and not just middle class but poverty level which is not as uncommon as you would think, I’m technically at poverty level right now) and try to live a healthy life. Nothing’s free and even walking has a cost in a way, you need shoes, time and a place to do it right? This one really hit home and I’m so glad there are people out there that are just as upset about this as I am.

  9. I’m a 44 year old maintainer of 60 pound weight loss 5 years ago. I live in an unincorporated area outside of a smallish town. I live in a subdivision that has sidewalks which total about 3 miles worth. I do NOT feel safe even though I’m supposedly in a “safe” area. HA! There are always loose, stray dogs. there are always mean teenagers in groups that roam around at night especially. I can’t even ride my bike from my house (which is my fav exercise) because of the main highway (speeds of 70mph+)that connects to a few ridable roads. It’s just so crazy bad. I just pretty much stick to my indoor “gym” room I made from a bedroom. and I HATE it. I want to be outside! I want trails, trails, trails, dedicated bike lanes, outdoor obstacle courses, “adult” playgrounds with good equipment. People near me care more about other things than providing quality outdoor exercise areas. SO sad!

  10. Wow, Lynn. Your post spurred two different thoughts. I am very concerned about hunger and even starvation throughout the world, but I had never considered exercise as being beyond the reach of the poor. And I really do think safety is an issue, because it is something I am always aware of as a single woman in the world.The second issue, feeling sorry for ourselves, being tired, and not wanting to exercise–oh yeah, I can relate to that too. On my best days what motivates me is remembering people who are much more physically challenged than me–like amputees or paraplegics who work so very hard just to walk. How could I ever complain again?

  11. I’ve been reading your comments all day but have been unable to comment (I’m watching Baby Claire….she’s 1. Typing and toddlers do not go hand in hand)Skye, your mother-in-law is definitely in need of more support. I know we need to help our own to the best of our ability, but what if our people live 1000 miles away? I’m glad you live so close to your MIL, but it has to be tough. nancy, sunflower daisies, anonymous, mara, debby, nicole, shawnda, jen….the whole “healthy food/price” issue” and a public workout space…my hope is that our country will figure that out and provide those things to its poorest citizens. The Food and Drug Administration and all the other government agencies related to obesity (the Centers for Disease Control?) talk a good talk, but where’s the action? Maybe I’m just out of the loop, but as many of you suggested, there needs to be public gyms, places people can go to work out in safety and for free. Of course, in this economy, it will be a hard sell. …sigh…

  12. Nicole, I just wanted to send a shout out to you. I’m so encouraged by you. You’re committed to being healthy despite your financial circumstances. I won’t go into details, but your post really struck a chord with me. Thanks for posting.

  13. Nancy, I’d love it if you’d share any information from that study. And about your dad? It’s amazing how just a slight change of perspective changes our whole attitude. I’d not thought about how hard my parents and grandparents worked, physically, to put food on the table and pay our bills. And here I am, working out because I choose to! Thank you so much for that perspective.

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