Fitness: Did you hear?...

Detroit gets top "honors" in Men's Fitness Fattest Cities report, Iron Grip "Strength" pops up at Costco, Curves gym concept emulated widely, Horizon hires Bill Sotis as product development VP, Moving Comfort launches grant program, Pierre forecasts Nautilus as favorite buy in 2004, plus much more...
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>> In its annual now-much-anticipated report on who's the fattest of them all, Detroit has risen to top "honors" in the Men's Fitness magazine's Fattest Cities report. Detroit jumped from third place to first overall, partly because it has the lowest per capita number of gyms and clubs (only three per 100,000 residents). Detroit's Harper Hospital is also doing about 10 stomach-stapling surgeries a week. When Men's Fitness called the city for comment, it was told by the mayor's office that Detroit wasn't "interested in participating in this story." Next fattest, in order after Detroit: Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Chicago, Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Arlington, Cleveland and Columbus, round out the top 10. Now, on the bright side, the top 10 fittest cities: Honolulu hangs onto its No. 1 position, then comes San Francisco, Virginia Beach, Denver, Colorado Springs, Seattle, Boston, Portland, Tucson and Sacramento. Although non-scientific, the study can prompt action: Last year when the magazine called Charlotte to say it was the 10th fattest city, the mayor considered that a call to action. It moved up 19 places to become the 22nd FITTEST city this year by adding sidewalks, bike paths, expanding the city school's healthy eating program and creating a citywide fitness campaign (www.fitcitychallenge.org). Overall, that's pretty impressive. Each year the magazine takes the 50 largest cities in the United States and assesses them in 14 categories including the number of health clubs and sporting goods stores per 100,000, participation in 103 sports- and fitness-related activities, CDC obesity statistics, the total number of fast food restaurants (including pizza, doughnut and ice cream shops) per 100,000, air quality and TV viewing trends. For more, go to www.mensfitness.com. The story is in the February 2004 issue.

>> Costco is adding more fitness and training products. On a post-holiday trek through a California outlet, SNEWS found a rather nice-looking Iron Grip Strength dumbbell set and three-tier rack -- but nothing left but a display model, no price and a few pieces of cardboard. It was obviously a popular Christmas item! The IG Strength line is a license by Iron Grip to Impex and manufactured for sporting goods. IG President Michael Rojas told SNEWS we will see more IG Strength at big boxes in the future since it puts a distinction between IG's commercial equipment and the opening price point variety it licenses to others. Rojas said there is a clear separation between the two products and expects no consumer confusion. In other fitness products seen on the floor: Healthrider treadmills and the Bowflex Power Pro XTL. In a coupon book available for 2004 purchases, Costco gives $200 off the purchase of a Bowflex (regularly $1,399) between Jan. 12-18, as well as $500 off at Costco.com the regular $2,299 price of a Hidden Grove Armoire workout cabinet by Icon -- it looks like a stereo cabinet but open the doors and out pops a treadmill, weight bench and dumbbell set.

>> Let's start the New Year with another obesity story: Harvard Medical School's Harvard Health Letter called obesity the No. 1 health story of 2003 -- even topping the importance of SARS and the newly discovered perhaps fatal consequences of hormone replacement therapy. The letter called obesity the No. 1 health concern: "Research conducted this year has made new connections to the severity of obesity's consequences while the number of Americans that are overweight or obese continues to increase," adding that "obesity, like smoking, kills." For more, check out, www.health.harvard.edu.

>> Japan's Asics Corp., a maker of athletic shoes and sportswear, said on Jan. 4 that it filed a lawsuit against Payless ShoeSource Inc. alleging trademark infringement and false advertising. Asics, based in Kobe, Japan, said it is seeking a permanent injunction against Payless, the No. 1 U.S. footwear retailer, to prevent any future sales and distribution of shoes that bear a stripe design similar to Asics'. The suit, which was filed in a U.S. District Court in Central California, also accused Payless of unfair competition and trademark dilution. Asics said in a statement that some of Payless' brands sold at its retail stores have designs similar to Asics'.

>> Nautilus has put out its first "experts guide" to offer those seeking expert guidance a list of possibilities. The list includes business and sports training experts, fitness folks who teach group exercise, as well as researchers and personal trainers. Not only that, it's published in a compact ring binder format that is clear and concise enough to be a keeper on some desks.

>> Curves isn't the only game in town anymore. It's women's-only, on-every-corner concept has been emulated by a joint venture between 24 Hour Fitness and Linda Evans Fitness Centers with its new Butterfly Life venture. Other competitors are Slender Lady Inc. of San Antonio and Lady of America Corp. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., both opening up similar franchises at a rapid clip. Between 2000 and 2002, the number of franchises opened by five companies in this market segment jumped 68 percent to 4,305, according to Frandata Corp., a Washington, D.C., firm that performs data analysis on the U.S. franchise industry. The whole concept is attracting inactive women onto a simple exercise circuit as well as creating a bit of community in the whole process. Although Curves accounted for the bulk of that growth, other clubs' franchises also spiked. Lady of America, which runs Ladies Workout Express centers, grew 74 percent, and Slender Lady increased by 44 percent, according to Frandata. At Butterfly Life, classes are run by instructors played on a 67-inch diagonal, high-definition screen.

>> Horizon Fitness has hired Bill Sotis as its new vice president of product and marketing, a newly created position. Sotis has a global background in product, sales, marketing and business management and comes to Horizon with an 18-year track record of growing sales and profits in B2B and B2C businesses. His previous experience includes product management at S.C. Johnson, vice president of commercial operations and marketing at Bausch & Lomb, and vice president of marketing and product merchandising at Russell Athletic.

>> Moving Comfort, manufacturer of women's high performance athletic wear, has announced the Women's Beginner Fitness Grant Program with grants ranging from $300 to $1,000. "The purpose of the Women's Beginner Fitness Grant Program is to support new or existing grassroots running and walking programs that inspire women to get fit," said Moving Comfort President Ellen Wessel. Applicants must be a non-profit group such as a running or walking club; they will be judged on creativity of proposal, including promotional plans; ability and strategy to work in partnership with local retailers; organizational experience of club officers or program leaders; number of participants targeted; likelihood of lasting effect on participants; and exposure for Moving Comfort in the local community. Applications must be received (two copies) no later than March 12, 2004. Grantees will be notified by April 15, 2004. More information, check out www.movingcomfort.com.

>> Pierre's Moody Aldrich has chosen Nautilus as a favorite company. It's considered a good business strategy, has a strong balance sheet and credible management. "We look for sound businesses that are undervalued and have catalysts in place for price improvement," Pierre said. Stocks are culled from the Russell 3000 index, and Pierre settles on 20 to 30 companies within a broad range of market valuations. "The company is hitting on all four cylinders," Pierre said. Nautilus is debt-free, with a strong balance sheet, and shares trade at a low multiple relative to its return on equity, Pierre said. New product introductions, such as an adjustable dumbbell, will lead to an earnings turnaround in 2004, he added.

>> Bally Total Fitness has rolled out a multimedia campaign that is intended to broaden the reach and appeal of joining a fitness club to American consumers. The campaign features a new tag, "Every body needs something" and will include TV, radio, print, Internet and in-club advertising. Spend for the campaign was not revealed. The Chicago-based chain spent $65 million on ads last year and plans $60 million through September of this year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. The TV leg, to air on daytime and primetime programming, includes eight spots that focus on a variety of consumers and their fitness concerns. In "Closet," Bally offers the fitness solution to a frustrated woman who is having trouble finding the right dress size in her closet. "Delivery" pokes fun at the way people eat, depicting repeated high-caloric, high-fat food deliveries made to the same house while posing the question, "With the way people are eating these days, is it any wonder that every body needs something?"

>> A recent Harris survey done in conjunction with Weight Watchers found that "most women" believe the greatest payoff to thinness is better and lasting health, more energy and higher esteem. The survey also found that general inertia is what keeps many overweight women from having the thinner body they want. Results have been published in an article in the January 2004 issue of Weight Watchers magazine. An example: Nearly all (93 percent) respondents are not at their "dream weight," and 61 percent said they have negative feelings about their current body weight. In addition, 40 percent said they are not willing to make the effort or time for regular exercise. SNEWS View: Remember who reads the magazine to put some perspective on these results.

>> 24 Hour Fitness, an official sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Team, has announced it plans to make jobs available for more than 200 athletes in training for the Olympic Games. Eligible Olympic hopefuls from all Olympic sports can apply for a variety of positions at any of 24 Hour Fitness' more than 300 clubs across the country. Olympic hopefuls who qualify for these positions at 24 Hour Fitness will receive flexible work schedules to accommodate training and competitions, full compensation and employee benefits, and an opportunity for National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certification for personal trainers. They will also have complete access to all 24 Hour Fitness locations 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

>> The National Academy of Sports Medicine will undertake a rigorous program review conducted by the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA) and has applied to its accompanying accreditation body, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). NASM is pursuing similar processes through other accreditation organizations as well, including the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET), the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Register of Exercise Professionals (REP). All of these bodies are committed to ensuring that public health standards, policies and procedures are followed through a thorough review of education and an evaluation of practices.

>> Eighty-one percent of executives and managers see the economy regaining a significant or medium amount of strength over the next 12 months. This is a more positive viewpoint than about six months ago, according to the Net Future Institute survey of executives and company managers. When it asked this same question in May 2003, 54 percent saw a significant or medium gain. Over the next 12 months, 18 percent of respondents say that the economy will gain a significant amount of strength, while 63 percent say a medium amount, and 17 percent a small amount. Almost all (98 percent) senior executives and managers feel that the economy will regain at least some strength in the next year. The remainder foresee either no change or a losing in strength. Overall, 91 percent of senior executives and managers are optimistic about business during the next 12 months. When asked about their optimism of the increase/growth of business in general in the coming year, 19 percent of respondents said they were extremely optimistic and 73 percent said they were somewhat optimistic. For more, visit www.nfiresearch.com.

>> SPRI products has unveiled a new website with a section for fitness professionals. Find it at www.spriproducts.com.

>> Excuse us while we vent a moment: What is with all this low-carb mania? SNEWS recently saw an ad for a salad bar restaurant touting its "low-carb salads." No, really. As if lettuce and tomatoes had many carbs to begin with? Note that most low-carb dieters really have done two major things in the process: Cut out a lot of overall excess calories (such as baskets of bread lathered with butter) and cut out a lot of fat too, despite all this bacon and pork chops for breakfast stuff. Remember too that there are no standards for the catch phrase "low carb" as there is for low sodium or low fat. ANYBODY can say what they sell is low carb. We at SNEWS find something ironic in things like low-carb potato chips, low-carb bread and low-carb brownies. Isn't that akin to the low-fat craze's non-fat cheese and non-fat chips? Aren't they all oxymorons? And who wants to eat THOSE for very long. OK, thanks for listening; we feel better now.

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