The health club industry has gotten a publicity boost during the past year, thanks to the media's attention to the workout habits of President-elect Barack Obama. Almost every week during the campaign, I saw a news story about how exercisers at a fitness facility in yet another campaign-stop town unexpectedly found themselves working out next to Obama.
Obama isn't the first president who has taken fitness seriously, but could the publicity about his devotion to exercise help inspire more Americans to live healthier lives? And shouldn't the fitness industry jump on this coverage to further our mission to get people to exercise?
Some fitness facilities have already started fitness efforts in their communities. Clubs, schools and certifying agencies participate in programs created by the President's Council on Physical Fitness. The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) has its own activity campaigns and lobbies for legislation that promotes exercise. Norm Cates, publisher of Club Insider, started an effort called the International Alliance for Life to promote the need for people to change their lifestyles.
Even organizations outside the fitness industry are promoting exercise. Several of the professional sports leagues have activity campaigns aimed at children. The National Football League's Play 60 campaign encourages children to be active for at least 60 minutes a day. Many insurance companies offer incentives to exercise, and they run advertising campaigns that promote physical activity.
However, shouldn't these groups be working together in one broad effort, similar to the Got Milk? campaign that the National Milk Processor Board uses to promote drinking milk? The Got Milk? campaign has its own Web site (www.gotmilk.com) devoted to all things related to milk — research about the benefits of milk, recipes using milk and links to other dairy-related organizations. It also includes a link to www.bodybymilk.com, which profiles celebrities who drink milk, allows people to star in their own milk ads and encourages them to join Club Milk. Most importantly, the groups associated with this campaign pay for print and TV ads to promote their messages and Web sites.
What if IHRSA, the YMCA of the USA, insurance companies, professional sports organizations, the American Heart Association and other groups concerned about the obesity crisis worked together to create one Web site that was a clearinghouse for exercise research, offered advice about how to start exercising, featured videos demonstrating exercises, listed fitness centers and personal trainers by state, and provided links to other helpful Web sites? Of course, this Web site would mean nothing without the cash to promote the fitness campaign — which would, obviously, need a catchy slogan — through billboards, print ads and ads on radio, TV and the Internet.
Perhaps our biggest partner in this effort could be corporations. The Wall Street Journal recently asked CEOs and policy makers what the top priority for Obama's administration should be, and the consensus was fighting obesity. The group said that the cost of the obesity crisis, especially its future cost, has not fully been calculated. Prevention, education and offering physical activity in schools was very important to the group. Most businesses have seen health insurance costs rise along with the obesity rate. Big business should be more than happy to pitch in on a cooperative effort.
Let's not let this momentum go to waste. It's time to work together, even with groups you might not have considered working with before. So who's ready to start?