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Fitness Feels the Burn

By: Katherine and Kimberly Corp
Posted: August 23, 2010, from the September 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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Further exemplifying the potential of technology and fitness, the Internet presents a wide array of fitness services, giving consumers throughout the world access to fitness videos, exercise tips and weight-loss programs anytime, anywhere. From professional-grade fitness videos to customized personal training programs to weight-loss support groups led by experts, consumers can receive top-quality instruction and advice online at a fraction of the cost of visiting gyms or seeking counseling. Caution is necessary, however, as fitness on the Internet is not systematically regulated. Unqualified amateurs can produce and upload videos demonstrating faulty technique, and websites can post unsubstantiated advice, both of which increase the risk of injury or illness for those who never check in with a professional. Nevertheless, as with all industries, consumers will eventually determine the survival of the fittest, and professional sites with excellent content are expected to thrive in the coming years.

Corporate wellness programs

An expected rise in the number of corporate wellness programs coupled with much-anticipated government health care reforms could positively impact the fitness industry. From on-site fitness facilities to financial incentives for employees who complete certain health programs, corporate wellness programs encourage employees to improve their health and fitness. Research published in Corporate Wellness Magazine shows that companies with wellness plans not only save money on health care costs per employee, but also see improvements in other indicators, such as employee morale, health, productivity and absenteeism. The percentage of companies using financial incentives to promote their health and wellness programs rose to 71% in 2007 from 62% in 2006, according to Merriman Curhan Ford’s Fitness and Wellness Report, 2008 .

Moreover, the same report found that every dollar a company invested in a wellness program yielded a $5.82 return. According to a 2007 report by the International Health and Racquet Sports Association (IHRSA), more than 50% of Americans would exercise more if their company provided an on-site facility or a health club membership. The proven success of existing wellness programs is expected to continue to encourage other companies to follow suit.

Health care reform

With the passing of the landmark health care bill in March 2010, the health and wellness industry can expect many changes. The details and full degree of the impact, however, remain unclear. According to reports on the health care bill, certain preventive measures will be covered by the year 2014.1 Depending on which measures are covered—a point that remains to be determined—health clubs and wellness providers could see their revenues increase if their client base is able to apply insurance toward preventive activities, such as gym memberships and mind/body fitness choices. Additionally, the Personal Health Investment Today Act of 2007 (PHIT) bill proposes employees be permitted to use pre-tax dollars to pay for fitness programs and exercise equipment through health savings accounts, such as flexible spending. PHIT continues to gain momentum in Congress, with 25 members of the House currently co-sponsoring the bill.2 The Strengthening Physical Education Act of 2007 addresses the importance of physical education in school curricula, and many states have proposed their own legislation to promote the same.

Unfortunately, predicting the impact of the health bill is impossible; however, history shows Americans do change their behavior according to government recommendations. Most recently, in 2002, the fitness industry experienced a 7.4% increase in health club memberships compared to 2001 after the surgeon general drew attention to the obesity epidemic, according to Merriman Curhan Ford’s Fitness and Wellness Report, 2008. Since much of the population cites the expense of health club fees as the reason they quit a health club or never joined, the fitness and wellness industry can be expected to experience an unprecedented boost if the afore-mentioned bills do get passed. According to the IHRSA’s 2007 study, four in 10 Americans already exercise two to three times a week, so the number of gym memberships or consumers purchasing fitness products and services for home use could increase significantly with government recommendations. Then, manufacturers of fitness products, and owners of clubs and wellness spas will be competing for the business of these health-inspired consumers.