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Behind the Scenes

Surveys on Activity and Club Memberships Seem to Contradict Each Other

When I read the Physical Activity Council's report that more people were inactive in 2011 than in 2010, I was rather disappointed. Aren't we making any headway in getting people on their feet?

The report stated that 68.2 million people aged 6 years old or older were considered inactive in 2011, meaning they did not participate in any high-calorie burning activities. That compares to 67.2 million inactive people in 2010.

Then, the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) released its report that memberships (for people 6 years old and older) at U.S. commercial health clubs increased from 50.2 million in 2010 to 51.4 million in 2011, a 2.4 percent growth. Ah, hope!

But wait. We had more inactive people in 2011 than in 2010, but we had more people belonging to a commercial health club in 2011 than in 2010? How does that happen?

I guess this could mean that while more people are inactive, those who are active were more likely to belong to a health club in 2011 than to be active on their own. The economy is showing some signs of recovery, so perhaps people are adding their club memberships back into their budgets. Maybe the low-price clubs are drawing in people whose only objection was price. Maybe people are tired of trying to become more fit on their own and are realizing they need the help that clubs can provide.

Or perhaps the survey means that more people are joining commercial clubs rather than noncommercial clubs, as the IHRSA figures did not count people who belong to YMCAs, Jewish Community Centers, university rec centers, parks and rec facilities or any other noncommercial club.

But maybe there is another explanation. The numbers in both surveys were for people 6 years old and older. As Stuart Goldman, our managing editor, pointed out: Who are these 6-year-olds, and why are they participating in online and telephone surveys about their activity levels and club memberships? And how accurate could their answers be? (OK, so the parents of these children likely responded for their kids, but still, the image of a 6-year-old answering a phone survey made me chuckle.)

What do you think accounts for the growing number of inactive people but the growing number of commercial club members?

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