Wealth & health

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

Wealth has contrary impacts on 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 increasing access to desk jobs and driving. In the process, people 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 offers people the modern lifestyle, along with all the unhealthy behaviours it currently entails. In the wealthiest countries, where the culture has had more time to adapt to the temptations of inactivity and unhealthy eating for decades, people appear to use part of their wealth to overcome the problem with gym memberships and personal trainers. Of course, not everyone can afford those solutions. 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.Photo by Aaron Thomas on Unsplash

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash