Health Clubs and Health Care Need to Build a Bridge to Help Decrease Obesity

Doctor with patient who is obese

This article is part of Club Industry's report, "America's Obesity Crisis and the Fitness Industry's Role in Resolving It." The report can be downloaded for free by going here.

Almost two-thirds of American adults were either overweight or obese in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 1980, no state’s obesity rate was more than 15 percent. As of 2013, every state and the District of Columbia had obesity rates higher than 20 percent, and 41 states had obesity rates of at least 25 percent, according to “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2013.” That same report notes that if obesity rates continue to increase at the same pace, 50 percent of U.S. adults will be obese by 2030.

According to the CDC, obesity affects almost one in five children and one in three adults, putting people at risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Over a quarter of all Americans ages 17 to 24 years old are too heavy to join the military. Obesity costs the U.S. health care system $147 billion per year. Obesity impacts the way a person lives, as well as the financial impact to society. Obese individuals struggle with the following health conditions:

  • Depression
  • Heart attack/failure
  • Anxiety/stress
  • Hernia
  • Cancer
  • Gallbladder problems
  • Diabetes
  • Liver disease
  • Joint failure

Even though access to fitness and medical centers has grown dramatically during the last several decades, the number of Americans that are obese has continued to grow. In the fitness industry, there are more options than ever, from studios to high-volume/low-price clubs to mid-priced and luxury commercial clubs to YMCAs, university rec centers and parks and rec centers. According to IHRSA, the health and fitness industry in the United States has been growing by at least 3 percent to 4 percent annually for the last 10 years.

The increased obesity rates can be reversed through exercise and nutrition, but a partnership among health clubs, medical communities and the consumer is also needed. Healthcare has already expanded to be more readily accessible to consumers. Beyond primary care offices, consumers can now receive health care at MinuteClinics, Urgent Care locations, hospital systems, as well as telehealth options. MinuteClinics have grown to over 1,110 locations since 2000 and are still going strong.

Unfortunately, despite the growth of access to health care and health clubs, these two groups often don’t work well together. Trust between fitness center operators and medical professionals often is an underlying issue. Neither group trusts the other to properly care for the member/patient. In general, the medical community views fitness professionals as individuals that only care about the way people look and not about their health. Fitness professionals view physicians as individuals who only care about disease management and prescribing medication. In addition, both groups only have time to focus on what they have been trained to do:  fitness operators sell memberships and other ancillary products and services, and physicians diagnose issues and prescribe medication.

It is time that both industries work together to improve the health of members/patients. We all agree that obesity is a global issue, and unless the fitness and healthcare communities work together, things will only get worse.


Dr. Vaishali Geib is medical director for Privia Health and chief medical officer for ReShapeMD. ReShapeMD provides insurance-based medical services that that bridge the gap between fitness centers and the medical community to ensure that all parties work together. She is a practicing internist and integrative medicine physician in northern Virginia. Geib serves on the Leadership Council at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, where she completed a fellowship at the university’s Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. In the past, she worked at AOL in business development and sales strategy in the health business vertical as well as served as health spokesperson on numerous TV and radio broadcasts. She is past president of Shenandoah Independent Practice Association. She received her medical degree from the University of Missouri Kansas City in a six-year combined BA/MD program.

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