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Mixed Messages

I am a capitalist at heart. I believe in businesses making a dollar and I am always looking for different profit centers that fitness facilities are using to help drive revenues. And there are plenty — ranging from in-club advertising to personal training to pro shops — and everything in-between. But I do have a problem with clubs profiting off of product or services that do not promote the healthy lifestyle that is at the heart of the fitness industry.

That's why it troubled me the other day when I was leaving the gym to see a parade of kids (who were attending school break camp — a great profit center for family-friendly facilities) dragging their moms, dads and nannies to the vending machine to get their fill of Snickers, Milky Way and M&Ms. Oh, and don't forget the cola to wash it all down. Not that I begrudge anyone (myself included) the occasional bag of M&Ms, it is just that in the fitness environment I don't see the place for these types of snacks. I mean beer and cigarettes offer decent margins and I can't imagine any health club selling these to its members: “You've had a great workout, why not sit back with a cold one in our cigar bar.”

I also indulge in the occasional (OK, more than occassional, it's something I'm trying to get down to occasional) Big Mac or KFC meal — but I wouldn't expect to see a counter open in a health club in place of the juice bar or healthy café (more fine examples of profit centers) although the profit margins are, I would expect, very good.

This is even more important when children are being exposed to these mixed messages. They are bombarded with unhealthy snack items at home, camp and at school — not to mention during the many hours of TV they are watching instead of running and playing outside, but that is a topic for another day. Reinforcing these unhealthy eating habits at fitness facilities will only lead to poor habits, increasing overweight and obesity statistics and leading to another generation of out of shape Americans to try to get into your clubs — not to mention making it hard on current adult clients to reach their fitness and health goals.

Am I overestimating the damage that a candy machine can have? Possibly. But as schools and hospitals move toward phasing out these profit centers or switching to healthier snacks such s fruit, yogurt, etc. maybe health clubs should consider leading the way — solidifying the industry's reputation as one that cares more about the health of its patrons and all Americans more than a buck.

There needs to be a line drawn between turning a profit and sticking to the mission of the industry to help create a healthy and fit population.

I won't pass judgment on the club mentioned here or any club that decides that the line isn't where I would assume it should be, but if the industry as a whole is going to move forward and get the message about its mission out there it is time to decide what is more important, the bottom line or leading the way to a healthier lifestyle.

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