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Lifestyle Sports: Class and Exercise: What You Do Shows Who You Are

February 25, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ If you watch the health club ads, you might think people who work out are almost always young, wealthy and white.

You’d pretty much be right, say experts on the industry.

What you do shows who you are, and the experts say workouts are a sign you rank comfortably high on the social scale. But they’re concerned that those who rank farther down - the working class and the poor - miss the benefits of exercise, and face greater health risks.

″Health clubs are hitting into a stratum of the socioeconomic rank that is not super-upscale but is an affluent segment - upper-middle class and middle class young people; white collar people,″ says Jonathan Robbin, founder of Claritas, a major demographics firm.

The Alexandria, Va., company has categorized the lifestyles and social rank of American neighborhoods by ZIP code. Robbin says his check of health club members shows most are in the wealthier parts of major metropolitan areas.

The most likely exercisers, he says, are the fast-track young executives in his Urban Gold Coast cluster. He says 9.5 percent of these few but very wealthy urban households belong to health clubs - well above the national average of 5.4 percent.

Second is the Young Suburbia cluster of white-collar workers with young children in near-in suburbs of large cities. Third is is the urban and urbane Money and Brains cluster - ″young lawyers, doctors, people like that,″ says Robbin.

All three are about 75 percent above average in club membership. Two well- off suburban groups - Pools and Patios, and Furs and Station Wagons, follow at about 70 percent above average.

On the other hand, he says, the upscale Black Enterprise cluster - largely of successful white-collar blacks - is 40 percent below average in health club membership. ″It may be a matter of personal preference,″ he says.

Robbin thinks that the health benefits of exercise are only part of the motivation for joining a club. ″Probably the health club is a substitute for the golf club or some other neighborhood institution,″ he says.

Blacks are beginning to become more interested in fitness, but they face many obstacles, says exercise physiologist Vernon Bond, an associate professor in the physical education department of historically black Howard University, Washington, D.C.

Studies show that vigorous, regular aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease, a major problem among blacks, he says. He says one of every three adult blacks has hypertension, although only one in four nonblacks does. Also, he says, blacks are three times as likely as whites to have severe hypertension.

″A lot of blacks feel they work hard enough during the day, so they do not have to go out and do aerobic exercise,″ he says. ″That’s a mistake.″

Also, he says, people may prefer to spend scarce non-working time with their families rather than in exercise programs. And, he says, cost is a factor - Bond says it’s hard to justify spending up to $2,000 a year on a club membership when you support your family on a small paycheck.

Researcher Ronald E. LaPorte says health marketers realize this and target their service accordingly.

″Essentially all are for profit, and there’s no money among low socioeconomic groups,″ says LaPorte, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

″They are going to go after the market where there are enough dollars,″ agrees Catherine Masterson, director of public affairs for IRSA - The Association of Quality Health Clubs, a Boston-based trade organization. The clubs generally realize that a membership is, after all, not a necessity, Miss Masterson says.

END ADV for Weekend Release Feb. 25-26

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