American Sports Data (ASD) has released the “Comprehensive Study of American Attitudes Toward Physical Fitness and Health Clubs” — the third in a series of tracking studies initiated by IHRSA, following the historic report of the Surgeon General on Physical Activity and Health in 1996.

The new 410-page report begins with a thumbnail history of the American fitness revolution but contains much more — even a glimpse into the future of our industry, according to the company.

In 2003, most Americans are persuaded that physical activity is essential to good health, and more than 50 million adults are frequent exercisers, participating more than 100 times a year in at least one fitness activity, the study found. From a baseline of near-zero in 1950, a logarithmic curve makes the near-vertical ascent to a fitness utopia in 2050: daily workouts are the norm for every able-bodied American and those who desist are social outcasts.

But there is a competing scenario in which people never exercise, the study shows. In this alternative future, technology — for centuries the natural enemy of physical activity — is finally triumphant, inventing a “magic pill” that supplies all nutrients, prevents weight gain and otherwise ensures perfect health.

And this future may be taking root today as the study also shows no evidence that Americans are becoming more physical. In 2002 there were 50.9 million frequent exercisers — nearly identical to the 51.5 million reported in 1990; on a per capita basis, however, the percentage of frequent fitness participants in the United States has declined from 23.2 percent to 19.8 percent. Far worse, the media informs us daily, American eating habits are out of control — and the country is on the brink of an obesity epidemic. Ironically, people have finally recognized their need for structure, information, stimulation and external discipline; and in the midst of a stalled fitness movement, health clubs and personal trainers — the two venues that address these needs — are flourishing, the report said.

The research contains even more good news for health clubs:

Clubs across the United States are apparently doing the right things and earning the grades to prove it. On a satisfaction scale of 1 to 10, the 2002 sample of health club members registered a mean rating of 7.81, compared with 7.40 in 1998 and 7.29 in 1996 — a statistically significant increase.

The study also shows that for losing weight, a health club is the place to be. Whereas only 17 percent of all those in the general population who try to lose weight are successful, the success rate climbs to 23 percent among health club members, soaring to 30 percent among frequent exercisers who are also club members.