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Educating America About The Dangers of Obesity

Clubs would appear to have significant opportunities for positive growth, yet that is not always the case. For every 15 million members who walk through the front doors, 12 million exit through clubs' back doors, says John McCarthy, former executive director of the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). Membership attrition represents a financial loss for owners, an opportunity loss for managers and an experiential failure for members, McCarthy says. Are we delivering what the customers want and, more importantly, really need?

According to the American Sports Data's “Health Club Trend Report” and IHRSA's “Profiles of Success,” the commercial health club industry (comprised of about 29,000 health clubs) makes an enormous contribution to the U.S. economy by providing services to more than 41.3 million health club members. Yet as an industry are we really getting the message across? The prevalence of obesity is increasing worldwide at an alarming rate. In more affluent countries, obesity is common not only in the middle-aged, but it is also becoming increasingly prevalent among younger adults and children. Today, more than 65 percent of adults in the United States are overweight or obese compared to 61 percent only a few years ago.

The costs related to obesity are both health-related and economic. The surgeon general reports that the economic cost of obesity in the United States was about $117 billion in 2000. The health consequences of obesity are many and varied, ranging from an increased risk of premature death to several non-fatal but debilitating complaints that adversely affect quality of life. Obesity is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases such as non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases and cancer, and in many cases, it is associated with various psychosocial consequences. Also, obesity puts individuals at an increased risk for chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. A weight loss of 5 to 10 percent of a person's initial body weight can improve health by lowering blood pressure and other risk factors for obesity-related diseases.

The surgeon general, along with The World Health Organization, is helping to develop strategies that will make healthy choices easier. Here are some of our challenges we in the fitness industry can tackle:

  • It is recommended that Americans accumulate at least 30 minutes (adults) or 60 minutes (children) of moderate physical activity most days of the week. More may be needed to prevent weight gain, lose weight or maintain weight loss. Yet, most people claim they have no time and a lot of stress.

  • Less than one-third of adults engage in the recommended amounts of physical activity.

  • Many people live sedentary lives; 40 percent of adults do not participate in any leisure time physical activity.

  • Forty-three percent of adolescents watch more than two hours of television each day.

  • Activity is important in preventing and treating obesity and becoming overweight, and is extremely helpful in maintaining weight loss, especially when combined with healthy eating.

What have you done in the last week to improve the health of your community? And what have you done in the last week to help make your business healthier (and relieve some stress)? Could it be that we could all be happier and more profitable if we would spend more time, money and energy fighting obesity instead of fighting each other for the same in-shape members?

Ed Tock is a partner in Sales Makers, a marketing and sales training consulting firm. Tock also has a M.S. in exercise physiology and in education from Queens College in New York City. He can be reached at

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