The Economist wrote an interesting piece on inequality and exercise in which they look at the correlation between income and the average time spent exercising each week. One industry that emerged intact from the recession of 2008 was exercise. Gym membership in the USA in 2009 numbered 45m but today it stands at 54m. However, although this might indicate a healthier population, between 2001 and 2012, the age-adjusted proportion of the population who are obese or extremely obese grew from 36% to 41%.
The explanation of this paradox lies in who is doing the exercising (see chart). Where once “prosperous” was a synonym for overweight, being fit (and thin with it) is a marker of status. Soul Cycle (a gym chain that run indoor cycling sessions) are to be found in the Hamptons and Westchester County in New York. In such places small gyms, yoga studios and the like, which make their money from hosting classes rather than through membership fees, proliferate. They advertise fitness as something close to religion. At CrossFit, which describes itself as a “word and a phenomenon”, though it mostly involves weightlifting, customers are described as “athletes”. Exercise is not quite yet a luxury good, but it may be getting that way.