Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why so slothful, Australia?

I've a piece in today's Sydney Morning Herald, 'Exercise your mind and your body will follow - don't become a statistic'.

The majority of adult Australians don't do regular exercise (where regular means at least twice a week).  I'm asking why, and suggesting a few remedies.  A sample:
This is partly an issue of class. As much as it pains devotees of Australia's ''classless society'' to recognise this, fitness and health are divided along socio-economic lines. As the ABS recognises, higher income and education levels go hand-in-hand with higher participation in sports and physical recreation. Income helps us pay for club or gym memberships, and buy costly equipment. Education can make it easier to find health information and to weigh up the options. And the richer suburbs have better facilities: places to run, play and work out. It's more difficult to take long walks if your neighbourhood's filthy or dangerous, or every shopping trip requires driving. 
As with many markers of class, fitness levels are often inherited. A quarter of Australian children are overweight or obese, and children in low socio-economic areas are more likely to be so. 
But it is not all class. Australian kids, rich and poor, still spend an average of two hours in front of the idiot box a day - far more than on a bike or in a pair of running shoes. Many adults are similarly preoccupied with television, computers and sedentary leisure. 
Overwork also contributes to this. According to figures released by The Australia Institute, almost half of respondents had missed exercise because of employment. More than a third admitted poor eating habits for the same reason. Work can literally make us sick. 
So the rugged, rippled Australian is an endangered species. And this is not simply an individual predicament. Geography, education, income, ethnicity, gender - these compete and collude to encourage inactivity and ill health. There is no simple solution.
(Photo: United States Navy)


Frances said...

Damon: I do wonder whether higher income and education also lead to more leisure time.
Perhaps not. But, perhaps a stimulating job...stimulates you. Perhaps a repetitive, soul destroying job also destroys your initiative, or destroys any feeling that you can determine the quality of your own life.
I once read that Finland successfully tackled obesity by banning broadcasts of major sporting competitions...the idea being that the gulf between professional accomplishment and personal standards was so huge that these make people, adolescents in particular, despair and give up any endeavour.

Damon Young said...

I don't have any evidence ready to hand, but your observations sound about right, Frances.

The Finland example is interesting. I'll look it up.