Wealth has contrary impacts of physical activity in poor and wealthy countries.

Photo by Aaron Thomas on Unsplash

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

Wealth has contrary impacts of physical activity in poor and wealthy countries.

While enjoying a higher income leads to greater overall health and physical activity in wealthy countries, it may have the opposite impact in low-income nations, according to two recent studies with contrasting results.

An analysis of the WHO World Health Survey has found a strong connection between greater wealth and being less physically active in 47 developing countries. The results are likely related to people gaining access to a lifestyle of desk jobs and driving as incomes rise. In the process, they lose reasons to be active, such as walking or manual labour, and the study finds they begin to suffer the consequences associated with physical inactivity, including higher rates of depression.

Another recent study reveals a contrary pattern for the United States, where high-income people engage in more exercise. The authors speculate the discrepancy stems from uneven access to gym membership, parks, and flexible work hours. Wealthy people in the USA tend not to be active daily, but engage in intensive exercise just once or twice a week, a pattern referred to as “weekend warriors.”

Rising incomes grant people both access to the modern lifestyle, and all the unhealthy behaviours it currently entails. The wealthiest, who have lived with this situation for some time, are using part of that wealth to solve the problem with gym memberships and personal trainers, solutions not everyone can afford. With better urban planning, we should aim to decouple the connection between wealth and physical activity for all countries, ensuring that walking and biking throughout the day is an enjoyable and accessible option for people of all income levels.

Koyanagi, Ai, Brendon Stubbs, and Davy Vancampfort. 2018. “Correlates of Low Physical Activity across 46 Low- and Middle-Income Countries: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of Community-Based Data.” Preventive Medicine 106 (January): 107–13. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2017.10.023.

Shuval, Kerem, Qing Li, Kelley Pettee Gabriel, and Rusty Tchernis. 2017. “Income, Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior, and the ‘weekend Warrior’ among U.S. Adults.” Preventive Medicine 103 (October). Academic Press: 91–97. doi:10.1016/J.YPMED.2017.07.033.