The Exercise Myth

By October 3, 2008Uncategorized

I know this is going to come as a real shock to you, but apparently Australians have gotten quite a bit fatter in the last decade.  A report released today reveals that in the last decade alone the number of overweight and obese Aussie’s jumped from 41.1% in 1998 to 59.3% now.  If we keep going at this rate we’ll no doubt all soon be visible on satellite pictures.

The usual response to this kind of report is that we all need to do more exercise.  One Federal MP even wants to make exercise compulsory at least two nights a week.  And oddly fitness instructors think that’s “a step in the right direction“.  
So if exercise is the answer, we must have just not been listening for the last ten years right?  Well, actually, no.  According to the Australian Sports Commission, in 2006, two thirds of us exercised at least once a week and almost 43% of us participated in sport three or more times a week.  These numbers were only slightly lower than their equivalents in 1999 (the first year the report was prepared), but should be treated with caution as they are based on self-completed survey forms.  Everyone tends to exercise more when filling out survey forms.
As with most things, money may be a more reliable indicator.  According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, between 1998 and 2004 our spending on sporting equipment increased by 18.8% (in constant 2004 dollars).  A big chunk of this was because we spent more on swimming pools but there was also a 92% increase in gym fees! 
Even today’s report (accusing us all of being fatty boombahs) sheepishly admits that 69 per cent of children met the physical activity guidelines of at least one hour of moderate or vigorous exercise each day.

Even in the US, where all kinds of unwelcome records are being set for obesity, the figures don’t match the spin.  According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, the number of students participating in high school athletics has just increased for the 19th consecutive year.  And it’s not just the kids.  Their parents have been spending up big on sports gear.  Sporting apparel sales are up 35.3% since 2000 and sports shoe sales are up 44.2%.  But it’s not all about looking good.  Sports equipment sales more than doubled between 1990 and 2008 (from $30b to almost $70b).

Perhaps we are just enrolling in gyms and filling our cupboards with gym equipment and stuff to make us look like we exercise – it happens.  A better test would be a fitness activity that we pay for only when it is really used.  Personal training is a very high growth industry in the US and Australia.  In  1999 there were 127,310 personal trainers in the US.  That figure had almost doubled to 219,990 in 2007.  Australian data is a little less granular but shows a similar trend.  In the 2006 census, 13,800 people said there were employed as fitness instructors up from 7,669 in the 1996 census.

It looks an awful lot like we’ve been doing what the ‘experts’ tell us for quite some time.  And where has it gotten us?  Fatter and sicker and getting worse by the minute.  Time for a rethink, perhaps?

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