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Fitness: Whose Responsibility Is It?

As a fitness facility operator or staff member, just how much of a responsibility do you have to ensure that your members are using your facility and getting the most from their memberships?

As a fitness facility operator or staff member, just how much of a responsibility do you have to ensure that your members are using your facility and getting the most from their memberships? Not everyone in this industry is on the same page with regard to this issue. In fact, not everyone outside this industry appears to be in agreement over this issue. It has implications that go far deeper than the industry itself, and it is reflected in the roles that the government and other industries are playing when it comes to individuals' health.

Our magazine, as well as every other one in the industry, features articles about how to keep members interested in your facility, and coming back. The whole idea is that members should still be valued once they join. In October, I wrote a blog post (www.fitnessmanagement.blogspot.com) titled "The 'Big Fat' Truth About Health Clubs," which talked about fitness industry veteran Craig Pepin-Donat's recently released book, The Big Fat Health and Fitness Lie. His book has an entire chapter devoted to what consumers should know about fitness facilities that will actually deter them from joining, and even remaining once they've joined. While he makes a point of providing examples of how facility operators and staff simply don't care about members once they join, his book was written in an effort to encourage membership, rather than discourage it.

In response to that blog, an "anonymous" facility operator made it clear that he or she disagreed with it being the facility's responsibility to keep the member coming back: "As an operator, this comes up all the time. Here is the other side of the coin: self-responsibility. When you join a club, you should know that you need to come in and use what you paid for. ... Does your cable company call you if you don't watch movies? Does Verizon call you to remind you that you have free minutes coming?"

Hey, I'm the first to profess the need for self-responsibility. I've written about it in this column on countless occasions. But, the cable company and Verizon? We're talking about a national health crisis here. Are individuals going to die from not watching movies or using all of their available minutes? Or, furthermore, is failure to do these things going to further hurt our nation by putting even more of a burden on our healthcare system and cause more double-digit increases in health insurance costs for individuals and employers? No. But, obesity, due to a lack of physical fitness, will.

The government also seems to be confused about its responsibility in helping Americans fight obesity. It's no secret that in the past year, numerous efforts to tax health club memberships have been proposed, some of which have succeeded and others which have failed. The most recent examples of this are on November 7th, when the Michigan Senate repealed its newly imposed sales tax on fitness facility services, and in mid-November, when Maryland deleted health clubs from its sales tax bill after more than 14,000 emails, petition signatures, postcards and phone calls in protest. New Jersey still has a tax on health club services. The fact that states are proposing to tax health club services is surprising, really. Government has taken a big role in trying to combat the nation's obesity crisis. They even provide tax credits for those who enroll in weight-loss programs.

Other industries, such as the insurance industry, are starting to recognize their responsibility in helping to turn the tide of rising obesity rates. Several insurance companies offer discounts to people who join fitness facilities and show proof of working out a certain number of days per week or month. The insurance company we seem to be hearing most about is Medica Insurance Company, based in Minnetonka, Minn. Recently, it teamed with Life Time Fitness Inc. to conduct a study that "suggests taking concrete steps to encourage health plan members to exercise may lead to measurable reductions in the members' health claims."1

In 2003, Medica Insurance Company started offering $20-per-month incentive payments to members of fully insured plans who exercised at Life Time fitness centers at least eight times per month. It now also has agreements with most YMCAs and YWCAs in the Minnesota area, and, most recently, it added Curves fitness centers to its plan.

So, where are all of these mixed messages coming from? Whose responsibility is it to help make a difference in people's fitness/health levels? Is it the individual? Yes. Is it fitness facility operators and staff? Yes. Is it our government? Yes. Is it the nation as a whole? Yes.

Reference
1. Exercise Incentive Study Appears As Clubs Push For Tax Bills. www.lifeandhealthinsurancenews.com, Accessed Nov. 16, 2007.
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