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The Cost of Wellness

Money can’t buy wellness—or can it?

By Kellee Katagi

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A wise man once said: “Give me five minutes with a person’s checkbook, and I will tell you where their heart is.” Of course, that was back in the day when people actually used checkbooks, but the principle still holds: You spend your money on what matters most to you. 

If that’s true, then according to recent market researchAmericans care quite a bit about wellness, with the average American spending $1,860 each year—or $155 per month—on supplements, organic and vegan foods, weight-loss products, and fitness products and services. 

The highest percentage of that spending—$56 a month—goes toward supplements, including vitamins and minerals, as well as protein-based products. Nearly tying for second were gym clothing and accessories ($34.34 per month) and gym memberships ($33.89). (Which means we’re spending more on what we wear to the gym than on the gym itself. Hey, if you’re gonna go, you might as well look good doing it, I guess.) Rounding out the list were meal plans and nutrition advice at $17 a month, personal trainers and workout plans at $14 a month, organic products at $10, weight-loss products at $6, and vegan-specific products at $3. 

My question is: If we’re spending all this money, why isn’t it working better? The latest CDC data (from 2016) shows U.S. obesity rates are at an all-time high, with 36.5 percent of Americans considered obese—not including those who are merely overweight. And only a third of U.S. adults perform the recommended amount of exercise each week, according to government data.  

See also 3 Big Fitness Lies

So, how do we translate our spending into results? I offer three suggestions. 

  1. Follow through. Gym membership does you good only if you use it. Make sure you’re wearing your fancy fitness clothing to work out, not just to be comfy while you run your errands. And while supplements can be a wonderful wellness enhancement, don’t consider them a substitute for healthy eating or exercise. 
  2. Spend wisely. If you’re spending money on something that isn’t furthering your wellness (ahem, fancy fitness clothing), divert your funds elsewhere. For example, consider investing in a personal trainer who can keep you accountable to exercise. Also, research your supplements and weight-loss products carefully to ensure they’re doing what you hope they’ll do. 
  3. Shell out more if necessary. The annual $1,860 the average American spends on health and fitness products sounds like a lot—until you stack it up against other spending categories. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average American spends $2,913 each year on entertainment, nearly $10,000 on vehicle expenses, and $4,600 on health care—a number we could perhaps shrink if we dedicated more to exercising and eating right.  

Maybe we could even tweak the adage a bit: “Show me a person’s checkbook, and I’ll show you how healthy their heart is.” 

Kellee Katagi is one of those strange souls who actually enjoys working out for the sake of working out. She’s spent most of her 20-plus-year writing and editing career covering fitness, nutrition and travel, as well as outdoor sports ranging from skiing to spelunking to street luge (yes, that’s a thing).

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