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Health clubs: The problem

A typical health club
A typical health club
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The data posted January 15, 2010, by IHRSA (The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association) shows a decline in profits among the clubs they surveyed. Though the IHRSA article cautions about applying the data to the industry-at-large, it does state the data is meant to be a snapshot of health club performance in the U.S.

Consider this theory: If health clubs catered to those who most need them they would increase membership significantly and therefore increase profits. Consider the evidence.

There is definitely no shortage of health clubs in Charlotte and the surrounding area. A quick search of the yellow pages will yield over 300 places to test the “no pain, no gain” axiom. Of those, 80-plus are YMCA facilities. Numerous locations of the popular Bally Total Fitness and Peak Fitness clubs also make the list. Memberships are available in a variety of packages, perks, and prices.

With few exceptions, most people will agree that exercise is an important ingredient in good health. In fact, research shows that overweight persons believe more strongly in the value of exercise than normal weight individuals. Yet, overweight and obesity rates continue to climb. CDC statics detail that obesity in the U.S. has increased from less than 10 percent in 1990 to greater than 30 percent in some areas today.

The problem: One survey of intent published in Science Daily revealed that “the negative emotions associated with health club exercise may be stronger in controlling regular exercise than the intellectual facts.” In other words, overweight people are not comfortable with the atmosphere at many health clubs. One only has to think of any fitness club ad filled with lean, beautiful people to understand why. In a society where weight discrimination is discussed in the same category as racial discrimination, what overweight person wants to walk into a room of people with sleek curves, lean bodies, and solid abs?

So serious are these negative emotions that a growing number of obese persons are choosing to go under the knife rather than to be seen at a health club. While health club membership is declining, the number of bariatric procedures for gastric banding is growing rapidly and the Bariatric Times reports the double digit growth will likely continue until 2015. What can be done?

The solution: The next article will consider ways to make the health club environment more welcoming for those living on the plus-side of life.



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