The fitness industry is evolving. Wearable technology is keeping us more in tune with our physical health than ever before, workout applications mean we can take the gym with us wherever we go, and boutique classes have taken over the “gym” as we know it.
Combined with a growing demand for healthy foods and the rising cost of health care across the country, the fitness industry isn’t just adapting to the new order of workout apps and spin classes – it’s booming.
For a closer look at the impact increased exercise rates are having across the country, we’re breaking down which states have the most gyms and what that means for their physical and mental health. In this analysis, we’ll be determining which states have the highest number of gyms per capita and comparing that data to the number of overall fast-food options, obesity levels, and depression rates to determine if more access to exercise options helps inspire healthier routines inside and out. Read on to see what we uncovered about fitness culture in America today.
Working on Their Fitness
Regular exercise isn’t just about trimming down your waistline. Scientific research continues to illuminate the various ways regular activity benefits our body, including both physical and mental health. In addition to helping with weight management and bone strength, staying physical has been shown to boost our energy level, immune system, and overall feeling of happiness.
As we found, the heaviest concentration of gyms and workout facilities across the country was focused in states predominantly in the Northeast and the Upper Midwest. Led by Vermont with 146 gyms (more than 23 for every 100,000 residents), fellow Northeastern regions including Washington, D.C. (23), Massachusetts (22), and Rhode Island (21) also ranked among the highest number of total gyms per capita. Similarly, our analysis revealed states in the Southern and Southwest parts of the country ranked among the lowest concentration of gyms according to their populations. Arkansas (with just four gyms per every 100,000 residents), Arizona (5), Texas (6), and Hawaii (6) averaged the lowest number of workout facilities across the U.S.
While there’s no denying the benefits of physical activity, research continues to suggest there’s one component that’s even more important to weight management than working out: what we eat. In reality, no amount of calories burned at the gym, time spent on the treadmill, or personal records on the weight floor will help you maintain a healthy weight if your diet and nutrition are out of whack. And while you may not need expert analysis to illuminate why eating fast food can have a negative impact on your weight, studies suggest fast food and overly processed meals can lead to diabetes, cancer, stroke, cardiac disease, depression, anxiety, and mood swings.
Some Southern states didn’t just have the lowest number of gyms comparative to their population but they also had the highest number of fast-food restaurants for every workout facility. In Arkansas, we found there were nearly 11 fast-food restaurants for every one gym in the state, and we found similarly high averages in Arizona (10), Alabama (8), Texas (8), Oklahoma (7), and West Virginia (7).
In contrast, Vermont ranked the lowest with less than one fast-food restaurant for every gym in the state, while Rhode Island, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and New Hampshire all averaged fewer than two fast-food restaurants for every established workout facility.
Establishing a Connection
Imagine ordering the recently retired Mighty Kids Meal® from McDonald’s. An easy dinner option or a quick, on-the-go solution for lunch, one Mighty Kids Meal® variation consisted of a double cheeseburger, french fries, and (optional) chocolate milk. On average, the person eating this meal would have to play frisbee outside for over four hours to burn off the 840 calories associated with this one meal. In 2018, McDonalds cut cheeseburgers from their list of kid-friendly meals and reduced the portion size of french fries in an effort to reduce the number of calories children consume.
Based on our analysis, we found people living in areas with more gyms and fewer fast-food restaurants were more likely to have exercised at least once in the last month according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In Vermont, where the number of gyms per capita was highest and the number of fast-food restaurants per gym was lowest, nearly 79 percent of residents had exercised within the last month of the CDC’s study. In Arkansas, where the number of gyms per capita was lowest and the number of fast-food restaurants was highest, fewer than 68 percent of residents reported working out in the last 30 days. In other regions where the number of gyms was low, but the number of fast-food restaurants was high – including Kentucky, Mississippi, and Louisiana – we found the likelihood of people working out was even lower.
In some Western states, we found that while the number of gyms per capita was low, the rates of exercise were higher. Particularly in Washington, Colorado, California, and Utah, where the number of gyms per capita was below the national average, between 78 and 80 percent of residents still reported working out within the past month. In these states, the availability of outdoor exercise options (including hiking, walking paths, bike trails, and snow sports) may help contribute to the increased rate of physical activity among residents despite less opportunity to access gyms and other workout facilities.
Cause and Effect
Being medically classified as obese isn’t just a matter of weight; it’s the total percentage of body fat relative to a person’s height. According to the CDC, a person’s Body Mass Index (BMI) is the highest contributing factor towards obesity, and uses both weight and height to determine if someone is underweight, within the normal range, overweight, or obese. Across the country, we found an average of just 1.2 gyms for every 100,000 people, and nearly 31 percent of Americans classified as obese. Studies show the health effect of being either overweight or obese can be extreme, ranging from increased risk of stroke, mental illness, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and death.
Perhaps even more compelling than the lower levels of obesity in regions where there were a higher number of gyms per capita (including Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, Montana, and Vermont), we found an extreme correlation between the number of fast-food restaurants and obesity in America.
In a vast majority of states where the number of fast-food restaurants per capita exceeded the national average, the percentage of obese Americans also exceeded the national average. Including West Virginia, Oklahoma, Alabama, Indiana, and Louisiana, the obesity rate was highest in states where the number of fast-food restaurants was also well above the national average.
Physical and Emotional Consequences
The connections between physical wellness and mental and emotional wellness are well-founded by research and expert analysis. In addition to the symptoms of depression that may be triggered by not working out, similar studies suggest ingesting too much processed food can have a similar impact on the chemistry of our brains. According to one study, people who eat fast food are 51 percent more likely to develop depression than those who eat very little or no fast food.
On average, while there are 1.2 gyms across the country for every 10,000 residents, more than 1 in 5 Americans are currently classified as depressed. In many states where the number of gyms per capita was lowest, we found above-average rates of depression. In West Virginia (where 26 percent of residents are depressed), Arkansas (25 percent), and Kentucky (24 percent), we found the number of gyms was among the lowest in the country, but the rate of depression was among the highest. Outlier states were typically found on the West Coast, including California, Colorado, Arizona, and Hawaii, where outdoor activity may be more readily available to help residents stay in shape without needed access to a gym or indoor facility.
Impact of Education
Research continues to show a positive correlation between people and regions with higher levels of education and better overall health. While higher education also tends to lead to higher income levels, experts suggest income only accounts for a small percentage of the shift. Similarly, it’s possible that better health may also be contributing to a higher level of education.
According to our analysis, overall education rank was highest in states with the largest number of gyms per capita. With only a few exceptions, we found Vermont, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Hampshire were among the most educated states and also had the highest number of gyms based on their total number of residents. In contrast, the number of gyms and the education rate was lowest in states including Mississippi, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Arkansas.
Balancing Your Routine
Staying physically active is a fundamental aspect of both physical and emotional well-being. Scientific studies continue to show the positive impact of even moderate levels of exercise on increasing immune function in the body, elevating our mood, and keeping us energized. As we found, citizens in states across the country with more access to gyms and workout facilities often have a higher likelihood of working out and lower levels of obesity and depression.
But the work you put in at the gym isn’t the only contributor to your health. What you eat can be just as important as the calories you burn, and increased access to fast food across America could be linked to higher rates of obesity and increased levels of depression. Ultimately, establishing an active routine is as much about what you put into your body as the effort you put in at the gym – and it may take an equal balance of both to achieve a healthy lifestyle.
We compiled data using the 2019 U.S. Health Club Database from U.S. Business Data. The database contained the business contact information for 90,563 U.S. gyms and fitness and health clubs. Some gyms had multiple contacts. To ensure that these gyms were not counted multiple times, we eliminated any duplicate records of gyms that had the same name and address. We then compiled obesity rate and exercise rate data from the CDC BRFSS Prevalence and Trends tool. We gathered education rankings from a 2019 study by WalletHub and the number of fast-food restaurants per capita from a study by Datafiniti. All trend lines had a p-value less than 0.05.
Fair Use Statement
Are your readers interested in the connection between fitness, fast food, and depression? You are encouraged to share the results of our analysis with them for any noncommercial use along with the inclusion of a link back to this page for proper transparency and credit to all contributors.