ORLANDO — The theme of the 2007 Club Industry East Conference and Exposition, held June 6-9 at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort, was “Reshaping the Future: Eight to Eighty.” Another theme could easily have been “Reaching Out to America.”

Highlighting the show, which was held for the first time in Florida, were keynote speakers Dr. Dot Richardson and Dr. Ian Smith. Richardson, an Olympic gold-medal winning softball player who is the vice chair of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, discussed the role of the President's Council and how it is encouraging people to live a healthier lifestyle.

Richardson offered statistics during her presentation that showed how fast the obesity epidemic is growing in America. Two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, and 70 percent of Americans don't get at least 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week, Richardson says.

The most eye-opening statistic came in a series of maps of the United States that showed the growth of the obesity epidemic since 1985. The 2005 map showed that 30 percent of Mississippi and Louisiana citizens are obese, and several other states had a much larger percentage of obese citizens than they had 20 years ago.

To reverse the trend, Richardson says it will take a “seismic shift” to empower individuals that will involve, among others, corporate America, the government, scientists and educators, the media, and health insurance companies. Clubs can also serve as role models in community-wide campaigns for healthier lifestyles, Richardson says.

Smith, a diet expert who is featured on VH1's “Celebrity Fit Club,” is a contributor on “The View” and has authored five books, including his latest, “The Fat Smash Diet,” surprised many in the audience when he said he doesn't let his celebrities lift weights for the first six weeks of their training. Most people join a gym or hire a personal trainer to lose weight, Smith says, so he suggests clients should just do cardio workouts for six weeks and change their diet before incorporating strength training.

“I tell people that you don't have to belong to a gym to lose weight, but you can get optimal benefit by going to a gym,” Smith says.

In both his opening remarks and in the question-and-answer session that followed, Smith stressed to the audience the “soft sell” in attracting new members to fitness clubs. Smith encouraged trainers to get to know their clients on a more personal basis and not be solely concerned with giving fitness tips on topics such as weightlifting. Smith added that trainers should identify the stressors in their clients' daily lives.

Smith referenced his 50 Million Pound Challenge initiative aimed at the African-American community. Eighty percent of black women and 67 percent of black men are overweight, Smith says, yet only 5 percent of blacks go to health clubs to exercise. Smith added that the African-American community is a great opportunity for the fitness industry, which should also be more sensitive to the deconditioned market by not displaying the fittest people in their advertisements. Clubs should start featuring people they're trying to attract, Smith says.

Veteran industry consultants Michael Scott Scudder and Sandy Coffman, two regular contributors to Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro magazine, offered helpful tips to fitness club leaders in their seminars. Scudder encouraged clubs to get ahead in the low-price wars by finding a niche in their operations. Coffman says club managers should smile more and be more outgoing to prospective clients.

Another industry veteran, Wayne Westcott, who led two of the most popular seminars on weight training, says that two sessions is equivalent to three when it comes to the health benefits and gains in muscle mass.

For the first time, conference attendees participated in a tour of fitness centers in the surrounding area. The Orlando tour stopped at The Fitness & Day Spa at Florida Hospital Celebration Health, the YMCA Aquatic and Family Center and the Gold's Gym Dr. Phillips.

Club Industry East attracted 2,414 fitness professionals and 115 exhibiting companies that filled 250 booths.

The Club Industry national show will take place Oct. 10-13 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

The 2008 Club Industry East show will be held April 17-19 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York.