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Battle of the Bulge

A few months ago at a trade show someone asked me what I thought of the state of the fitness industry. “I don't know” was the best answer I could muster (granted, it was about 1 a.m. in a bar, but that's no excuse). With such diversity and fragmentation, it is difficult to get a read on the industry by simply looking at it from the outside.

So, for this year's State of the Industry report, we went inside the industry. We spoke with several industry leaders. We informally polled fitness industry vets. We scoured trade associations for facts and figures. We looked at the state of the U.S. economy. We put that all in a bag, shook it up and presented our slant on what we see in the industry both for the past year and with a glimpse into 2003 (see page 14).

But recently, another number came across my desk, and that number is 20.9. A harmless enough number until you realize that it is the percentage of American adults that were considered to be obese in 2001, according to data released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). See page 8 for more details on this study.

And if that number wasn't bad enough, it is a slight jump from the 2000 number, which stood at a whopping 19.8 percent of obese American adults.

This growth (both in the numbers and in the flesh) came despite the best efforts of the government and private organizations to educate and motivate people to get active and to get healthy, and despite all the attention given to the health risks associated with being overweight.

So in the end it doesn't matter what the financial strength of the industry is. It doesn't matter what the membership and retention numbers were in 2002. It doesn't even matter how many clubs will open in 2003. If we aren't getting the word out there and getting these overweight, unhealthy Americans involved in fitness — the industry is a failure.

It is a failure because the main mission of the industry as a whole is (or should be) to help every American get as healthy and as fit as possible (and no, not everyone can be an athlete, but they can be fit and healthy). It is essential that the industry rallies around that mission and works to help members and non-members alike become healthier. This has to be done by reaching out to the community, working with schools, offering creative programming and flexible membership packages, as well as offering options for people that don't want to join.

It will also take adding credibility to the industry by improving the certification process and standards and not having a used car sales mentality when selling memberships by charging the full value of membership and services offered.

These are not, by far, all of the things that can be done to reach these people, just one man's humble opinions.

But by reading Club Industry today, and coming back through all of 2003 and beyond, hopefully we will all learn a little something to better meet the mission of fitness and improve all of our businesses at the same time.

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