The Good, the Bad & the Ugly of the Health and Fitness Industry
The health and fitness industry is booming, raking in an annual turnover of around 2 billion GBP from just over 3 thousand fitness facilities in the UK. As they gain money, people aim to lose weight, feel fitter and practise healthier eating habits … but is overall health the main outcome of the health and fitness industry?
It's no doubt that increasing practising healthier living habits reduces the risk of diseases and conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and earlier death. Exercise also improves mood and decreases stress levels. As humans developed smarter gadgets and machines, the majority of the population adopted sedentary lifestyles as more tasks took less effort to be accomplished. With exercise levels dropping and obesity/disease levels increasing, change was needed and thus the launches of governmental advice for exercise and nutrition. Fitness was made more accessible with increased numbers of health clubs and facilities (which are still rising to this day in the UK), mandatory physical education in schools and introduction of healthier meals being provided in cafeterias. The health and fitness industry aimed to make living healthily easier for the majority, by making information easier to understand and incorporate into daily lives. Fast forward to now, there are a multitude of different ways to adopt a healthier lifestyle than the general 'go to the gym and eat healthy' mantra. There are endless exercise videos on YouTube/Instagram/Facebook and even subscription based apps for people to utilise, if they don't like going to the gym. There are easier ways to track fitness levels with the inception of smart watches and devices. Social media groups are a great way for people to become more motivated to exercise and the community mindset permits a sense of inclusion. More to this, people may be exposed to different perspectives, ideas, recipes or regiments that they weren't aware of.
A few in the industry do it well. They ensure that their recommendations are specific to different individuals, backed by scientific evidence and experience. Their impact on a small scale is outstanding but on the world stage, much like anything, meritocracy never prevails.
The introduction of recommended exercise and nutrition guidelines in the early 2000s created structure and achievable goals to be met. However, health isn't a one size fits all and discounting various cultural customs, obvious health inequalities and critical health needs, made this impossible to be ingrained into the community. Despite national efforts, obesity levels are rising and the number of people dying from CVD and other health-related issues is also not slowing down. Metrics such as the pear/apple body shape or BMI don't account for the countless components that determine health such as muscle mass, calorie balance, chronic conditions, activity level etc. It assumes that to be thin or have a lower BMI, the healthier someone must be, which is simply not the case.
Then came the rise of the health and fitness industry on social media and the monetisation of fitness influencers. Information surrounding health and fitness, body transformation pictures and personal stories became instantly accessible to the masses through the tap of a button. With that came the added layer of comparison and a built up pressure to follow a fitness trend to look like the people everyone admired on social media. Only this time, the trends were merely fads, with no real scientific evidence of their results and were promoting the extreme dieting usually used on people in the entertainment industry to normal every day people. Social media is a breeding ground for misinformation to spread like wildfire. Instead of losing weight, people either develop serious conditions that affect their mental and physical wellbeing or they gain the weight back after a short period of restricting. Happiness was replaced by the ability to attain a particular body image.
The general media (i.e. TV and news outlets) like to present health through people who look a particular way and are in now way representative of the general population. It gives an ideal to attain to without divulging into the nuances that allowed them to become the ideal, such as the privilege of wealth, class, race, health and status. In addition, fat shaming became so popularised that anyone who even slightly deviated from the ideal was deemed unhealthy and inadequate. What's worse is that these 'norms' were so ingrained into everyone's minds that it was almost radical to not work towards having whatever body shape was in trend that year, whether it was skinny, voluptuous-with-small-features or having athlete-like-abs.
There have been plenty of stories of 'fitness enthusiasts' going under the knife and getting cosmetic surgery on their bodies and lying that it was achieved through exercise and dieting. People aspiring to look exactly like them buy their health and fitness guides, getting frustrated as to why they don’t reach the same goal. Furthermore, others are then encouraged to get cosmetic surgery themselves, but due to lack of funds to get the best doctors and lack of research on the surgery itself, some end up with horrific, botched surgeries impacting their livelihood way more than before. It's unethical and extremely problematic.
It is disheartening to see an industry that has so much potential to positively change the lives of so many lives, be tainted by greed, narrow-mindedness and unethical practises. Understanding how health and fitness play a role in keeping you alive for longer, should be a fun, educated and ever-changing journey that varies from person to person. There is no blanket guide to living healthily and it's time to get rid of the smoke and mirrors that glamourises a very basic and fundamental part of life.
Until next time,