If obesity levels continue to rise at their current rate, half of all adults in the United States will be obese—yes, obese, not overweight—by 2030, according to a report recently published in The Lancet. That news is shocking to me, although I don't know why, considering one-third of American adults are overweight today—a number that should be shocking as well, except I think I have gotten used to it.
The report says that obesity is replacing smoking as the top cause of preventable chronic disease, and this growth in obesity-related conditions will add $66 billion per year to health care expenses in the United States.
What are we as a fitness industry doing wrong that we are not having any sort of effect on this number? Clubs still attract just 14 percent to 16 percent of the population as members. I am at a point where I feel society has become rather lazy, preferring to sit at home on their computers or watching TV than doing any sort of physical activity, let alone going to the gym where they might break a sweat. Working out is not fun to most people, especially when they have so many more fun and less taxing alternatives to spend the little free time that they do have.
Recently, I read about some applications that offer rewards to people for working out and engaging in physical activity. That is a great concept upon first thought, but I do not think it is going to work. Again, if getting a reward requires too much work, people will give up on it, especially if the rewards are not great enough—or worse yet, they will lie to get the reward.
So, club owners, what are you doing to make physical activity more fun? And I'm not talking marathons or boot camps for people who already come to your clubs five times per week and want more of a challenge. I'm asking you what you are doing for the man or woman who never participated in sports as a child or teenager, the person who was always picked last for the kickball team, the person who was teased because of their weight and lack of athletic ability, the person who then grew into an even heavier adult because they just never felt that the gym or sports was a place where they fit in, the person who is afraid that if they step foot in your club they will again be the subject of ridicule. What are you doing to go out into the community to find these people and help them where they are now, so that at some point you can welcome them into your club, show them that they do belong there and help them become fit?
If you do not think about this issue as a matter of helping others, then think about it as a business opportunity and challenge to take on. This obese population will be close to the majority in the near future. The club operators who figure out how to capture this demographic are the operators who will grow and become the industry leaders in the future.