The Fit List

The Sad, Confused Politics of Fighting Obesity

Public park fitness groups are at risk—even as cities push soda bans.

The Sad, Confused Politics of Fighting Obesity

On the issue of allowing fitness classes in public parks, politicians face pressure from annoyed local residents. Photo: indykb/Thinkstock

The political fight against obesity is getting weird. With more than a third of the nation officially obese and the estimated medical costs of obesity soaring over $147 billion annually, who could argue against doing something? But while city politicians are gung-ho about joining the fight, they’ve recently found themselves in a strange state of hypocrisy thanks to a growing fitness culture that’s taking over our public spaces. 

Government officials often like to focus their anti-obesity efforts on food, most notably portion sizes. Considering experts partly blame our expanding waistlines on exploding portions, that’s not a bad idea, though it’s been hard to pass portion-related legislature; in June, New York’s highest court shut down New York City’s famous “soda ban,” which would’ve created a 16-ounce cap on sodas sold in the city. 

Legislators in Los Angeles took a softer approach to ensure no political blowback, kindly asking restaurants to offer smaller portion size options, healthier kids menus, and free chilled water as part of the “Choose Health LA” initiative introduced in 2012. Seventeen different restaurants are now participating. 

But while big-city politicians have been playing Gordon Ramsay and revamping menus, another anti-obesity movement has been taking place—one they didn’t start and don’t know how to approach: group fitness in public parks. Lots and lots of people are coming together to participate in yoga, mommy and me, bootcamp fitness and other classes—outside—and local residents don’t like it. Take this recent L.A. Magazine headline, for instance: People Who Aren’t Up Early to Work Out Aren’t Into the Fitness Classes Being Held in Silver Lake Meadow. Silver Lake Meadow being a three-acre park by a reservoir in the hipster Los Angeles city of Silver Lake. Residents mostly hate the noise of trainers barking orders, and of athletes chit-chatting loudly in the early morning hours. They also complain that the classes are overcrowding the park, disturbing the peacefulness of the outdoor space.

In Silver Lake and many other cities, politicians have decided to tax for-profit exercise groups, and in doing so, have priced them right out of the park. Considering many of those “for-profit” groups were simply moms or underemployed residents looking for friends, fitness, and an extra buck, the new laws might’ve priced the groups right out of existence. One trainer who forked over the $5,400 annual fee to the City of Santa Monica told the new law, which started at the beginning of this year, has “already started to hurt me. It’s pretty much going to make me non-profitable.”

Filed To: Politics, Fitness

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