FORT LAUDERDALE, FL — Realizing the different fitness needs and goals that women of all ages have, Lady of America and Ladies Workout Express Fitness Centers have been thriving. There are 700 locations in 46 states and five countries that have been motivating more than a million women to get in shape since 1984. To make sure the younger generation of women are able to share in the thrill of working out with their peers, Lady of America and Ladies Workout Express is inviting teenage girls ages 13 to 19 to use its facilities for free this summer.

“We want to provide a place for women to be able to acclimate themselves to a healthy lifestyle at a young age,” says Scott Breault, spokesman for Lady of America and Ladies Workout Express. “We feel it is important to offer them this opportunity so that they can develop positive living habits in their teenage years. We want to make sure that our younger generation of women has the opportunity to experience the thrill of working out in a safe, comfortable, female-only environment and improve their lives through fitness.”

In addition to the FIT-teen program, Lady of America and Ladies Workout Express will conduct a nationwide essay contest that will award a lifetime membership to the winner, along with a prize package that includes an all-expense paid vacation to Jamaica. The subject of the essay contest will be, “What Being Healthy Means to My Mother and Me.” One winner will be announced based on the judging of a panel of Lady of America Corporation employees.

The decision to develop this program for teens was an easy one when confronted with the startling statistics, says Breault.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 1999 nearly 50 percent of students in grades 9 through 12 watched television more than two hours per day.

“Combined with the failing efforts of our nation's physical education programs, our children aren't receiving the necessary tools to become healthy adults,” says Breault. “Our teenage girls are in desperate need of direction to keep healthy.”

In 1999, an estimated 61 percent of U.S. adults and 15 percent of children were overweight or obese. Those figures are nearly three times larger than they were in 1980.

“This alarming rise in overweight and obesity is due in part to the more modern society that we live in, but mostly because we have not been confronting this problem where it starts, in our childhood,” says Breault.

“The process to eliminate overweight and obesity must and should begin with our children,” Breault continues. “The first step in combating this epidemic is to educate and make fitness readily available.”

Today, nearly 300,000 deaths a year in the United States are associated with conditions related to being overweight or obese. In 2000, the total cost attributable to treating diseases associated with obesity was estimated to be $117 billion, mostly due to type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and hypertension.

“The cost of combating these illnesses, although great, is preventable,” says Breault.

“Our goal here is simple,” says Breault. “We want them to have a place to go to begin what we hope will be a long and successful relationship with the health and fitness industry that will make them healthy, energetic and productive adults.”