The hidden costs of health

Olivia Grefenstette, Opinions Editor

It is nearly impossible to escape it: the “Weight Watcher” commercials, the gym membership discounts, and the workout clothes promotions. Jan. 1 is not only the start of a new year but also the beginning of an all-consuming wave of wellness propaganda. 

However, this year, let’s not equate “wellness” to good character. At the end of the day, whether or not someone participates in the latest fitness fad is more of an indicator of their financial standing than their work ethic or personal strength. 

While there certainly are countless benefits to taking care of yourself through exercise and eating well, can we pump the breaks on the annual health shaming? Not everyone has to start taking Pilates or eating keto as the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s. The reality is that most people can’t. It can be easy to forget, especially in affluent areas like La Grange and Western Springs, that health and wellness are not at everyone’s fingertips. Working-class and low-income parents don’t always have the time, money, or energy to keep up with today’s wellness standards. Even fellow students struggle to balance education, employment, and health. Eating healthy and exercising takes time and money–two things that are in short supply when you are living paycheck to paycheck. 

It is no secret that gym memberships are expensive: the average monthly cost ranges from $40 to $80. Yet, there are even more barriers to fitness that lie beneath the surface. Something as simple as going for a run in the neighborhood can be difficult depending on someone’s location. Many low-income areas are affected by gun violence, and gang turf wars divide up blocks. Exercising and fitness may be important to members of these communities, however, running is not worth endangering your own safety and well-being. 

Moreover, low-income neighborhoods are often underdeveloped and underfunded by the government, lacking many clean and safe outdoor spaces where individuals can exercise and socialize. It is not fair to expect people to run on the side of highways or play at rundown parks. None of this is the fault of low-income communities but reflects how elected officials fail to serve and protect their constituents. 

Lastly, exercising takes time and energy. While 30 minutes a day doesn’t sound like a lot, when you are up before sunrise and don’t get home until the sun has set, it can be hard to find the motivation. Also, many low-income households are multigenerational meaning that parents may often have more responsibilities than just work: kids, grandparents, spouses, etc. 

The other aspect of wellness and fitness, one’s diet, is just as impacted by economics as exercise. Food accessibility isn’t equal everywhere. Many low-income neighborhoods are food deserts where fresh produce is hard to come by and is more expensive. Furthermore, making healthy, home-cooked meals take more time to prepare, which can be difficult for working parents who are already juggling a hundred responsibilities. This makes fast, less healthy options like McDonald’s seem more enticing because they are close to home, cheaper, and take less time. 

Overall, there are many uncontrollable factors that influence someone’s health and fitness. Instead of jumping to make assumptions, let’s try to practice empathy and focus on our own well-being. What works for you may not work for everyone. Have grace with yourself and others. Everyone is trying their best to get by and take this article as a sign that your best is enough.