What Are You Doing to Help Your Community Fight Obesity?

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No one in the fitness industry needs to be reminded that the country is in the midst of an obesity crisis. One-third of the country is overweight, and one-third is obese.

A new report, “Assessing the Economics of Obesity and Obesity Interventions,” by the Campaign to End Obesity, found that increases in obesity rates are responsible for $34.3 billion and $27.6 billion in additional spending in Medicare and Medicaid, respectively. Obesity also contributes to $74.6 billion in higher spending by private health insurers.

An article from Reuters drove home that message even further, noting that annual medical costs associated with obesity run $190 billion each year and that compared to 1960, airlines today spend $5 billion more each year on fuel to carry heavier Americans. Is it any wonder that health care costs and airfares are on the rise?

Another Reuters article noted that the general community only starts acting on an issue when it affects more than the core group, pointing out that anti-smoking campaigns only took off once evidence showed that smoking affected nonsmokers. Perhaps the same must be the case with the obesity crisis—we must see proof that the cost of obesity is affecting more than the obese, and it is doing so partly in the pocketbooks of the non-obese.

Unfortunately, obesity statistics can feel overwhelming when you take them as a whole, so perhaps it is best to make this issue local and, therefore, more manageable. But however you look at it, you as a club operator should be right there leading the efforts in your community.

What are you already doing to help your community become more fit? Some of you may already work with corporations to implement wellness programs for their employees. Others of you may partner with schools to teach physical education classes. Some of you may have created a referral program with doctors or hospitals in your community. I'm sure many of you sponsor or participate in health fairs. Considering all of the “Biggest Loser”-type programs that are entered in the Best Behavior Modification category of our Best of the Best contest, I'm well aware that many of you offer these types of contests. But what else do you do?

If a community-wide effort does not already exist in your city, it is time for you to spearhead one. Include in your community group the local media outlets (radio and TV personalities), your mayor, city council members, local sports teams, physicians' groups and hospitals, schools, restaurant owners and perhaps even some other fitness facilities in your town. This effort could include getting healthier food in schools, increasing walking and biking trails, creating community runs/walks (which people could prepare for by training in your facility), a segment on the local morning show featuring quick and easy healthy foods, a push for restaurant owners to offer healthier options and calorie counts on their menus, or a day each month where everyone in the city brings their tennis shoes and walks at lunch.

With all the focus on social media and YouTube these days, perhaps you could even put together a video featuring your partners in the group. Funny or Die, a comedy video website started in part by former “Saturday Night Live” actor Will Ferrell (Warning: Some of the language on the website might be offensive to some people.), uses the cast of the former NBC TV show “The West Wing” to promote the benefits of walking. The video is in conjunction with an alliance called Every Body Walk!.

Granted, you likely can't get a group of celebrities like this together, but you can create quite a stir in your town with a video featuring local celebrities (along with you and your staff) as well as specific information on ways to get fit. See if your local stations would air it as a public service announcement. Post it on YouTube, tweet it on your Twitter page and post it on your Facebook page. Ask those who appear in the video to do the same on their social media sites. If it is entertaining and informative, your video could take on a life of its own, which could help change the health of your community—and position your facility as an expert in this battle.

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