Obesity Is the Industry Issue


Obesity. We — and not just fitness professionals — hear about it on an almost daily basis. The nation is getting fatter and so are our children.

Our TVs scream about quick-fix products. Store shelves are stocked with low-fat, low-carb and all too often low-nutrition foods. Pills that will allow you to eat all the pizza and drink all the beer you want and still lose weight are touted on radios, TVs and magazines.

In fact, just the other day someone asked me why Fitness Business Pro plans on covering obesity during the next year, as it wasn't really an industry “issue.” My answer was that it might just be the industry issue.

At times the industry gloats that we are making inroads — and yes, we are. Some statistics from the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) show that as commercial clubs number more than 22,000, we are serving more than 36 million people. If you take into account the number of non-profits, corporate and other fitness facilities (hotel, school, etc.) that reach grows even more impressive.

Unfortunately, a recent survey conducted by American Sports Data for the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (sponsored by IHRSA) shows some staggering numbers that may deflate the industry's ego a bit. For instance:

  • Nearly 4 million Americans tip the scales at more than 300 pounds.

  • There are nearly 1.1 million U.S. women who weigh in excess of 300 pounds. And, there are more than 400,000 Americans who weigh more than 400 pounds.

  • One in nine U.S. adult males weighs more than 250 pounds, while one in six women tips the scales at 200 pounds or more.

  • The average weight of the American woman is 163 pounds and the average weight of the American male is 196 pounds.

While some of these statistics highlight the extreme, they are still pretty sobering facts.

Unfortunately, the future looks challenging as well. In 2003 just about 30 percent of all high school students attended daily physical education classes, a number that has stayed consistent since 1995, according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's national Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Additionally, the survey showed that the percentage of students enrolled in PE (56 percent) and the percentage of students physically active for more than 20 minutes in PE classes three to five days per week (39 percent) did not change significantly between 1991 and 2003.

During this same time, we know that calorie consumption and weights (along with associated health risks) have not stayed steady among these age groups. In fact, they have dramatically increased.

Does the industry have reasons to brag? Sure we do. And we should raise awareness and promote the good done regardless of segment. But at the same time we should all keep the negative numbers close at hand to remind all of us of the work left to be done and the opportunities to fulfill an industry mission while growing business at the same time.

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