Fitness hits Capitol Hill for grassroots lobbying

With obesity rates ballooning and a fitness aficionado in the White House, club association IHRSA is asking the fitness industry to lace up its shoes and knock on doors on Capitol Hill May 4-6 at the group's first Legislative Summit.
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With obesity rates ballooning, more people couch- or computer-bound and a fitness aficionado in the White House, IHRSA is asking the fitness industry to lace up its shoes and knock on doors on Capitol Hill May 4-6 at the group's first Legislative Summit, which has the tagline "The Right Movement at the Right Time."

Intended to educate industry leaders about the importance of grassroots political activity, the event also seeks to hit key policymakers with the health promotion message while training participants about how to be most effective in presenting messages and influencing legislative leaders.

"We're trying to begin a dialogue that we believe can lead to legislation promoting exercise and healthier lifestyles -- such as a resolution encouraging insurance companies to offer incentives to exercise, a Workforce Health Incentive Provision, and someday, even tax incentives for active individuals," John McCarthy, IHRSA executive director, told SNEWS.

During the event, sessions will include: "The RXercise Prescription: How Congress and Clubs Can Tackle Obesity and More," "Placing Fitness at the Heart of the Political Agenda," and "Tax Credits for Exercising: Making it the Possible Dream." A keynote address will be given by lauded lobbyist Gerald S. J. Cassidy to pump up participants on their way to their own lobbying.

The rubber hits the road with small group lobbying visits to legislators, which IHRSA said it hope will also include the leaders of the newly formed bipartisan fitness caucus -- Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., and Mark Udall, D-Colo. Armed with compelling medical and epidemiological data that demonstrate the cost savings of preventive versus acute, or rehabilitative, care, IHRSA looks to help lawmakers seize the fitness torch with the meetings.

Committed to showing a broad-based front in support of fitness and health, organizer IHRSA said it would like anyone in the industry to take time to attend, not just its member clubs. The non-profit association for clubs, for example, has asked the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA), the American Council on Exercise (ACE), and even longtime foe, the YMCA of the U.S.A., to attend the summit. Already showing support with sponsorship dollars for the event is a list of industry big guns, including Nautilus, Life Fitness, Cybex, FreeMotion Fitness, Precor and Star Trac.

"We're hoping that major players in the industry will agree to put aside competitive issues for the greater good here," said Bill Howland, IHRSA director of public relations and research. "We're trying to make introductions so the industry ultimately can be more effective. We all need to make phone calls and send e-mails and letters to tell Congress what is on our mind -- or nothing will happen.

"We can make a difference here," Howland added. "The education and networking are going to be very valuable."

If you can't make it to D.C., IHRSA representatives said they will make available for free follow-up materials. But if you're longing to lobby and to make a difference, go to www.ihrsa.org for more details and registration information.

SNEWS View: Thumbs up to IHRSA for trying to fulfill an important mission of any trade industry organization -- lobbying for its cause. And, of course, this cause is a broad-reaching one -- fitness and health. Historically, the fitness industry hasn't been tremendously savvy on the policymaking front, so the industry really could benefit from a coordinated effort on impacting legislation. And imagine what could happen if all the different entities representing health and fitness would actually -- gasp -- cooperate! Indeed, now seems like a good time to venture beyond our own sandbox.

Of course, with the new war and the ongoing economic uncertainty, one could argue that now isn't the ideal time to bend lawmakers' ears about things seemingly as trivial as working up a sweat. But the military leaders and generals on the front stuck their faces in CNN's cameras the day after the bombing began and told America to keep doing what it's always been doing and to live its life since otherwise the war effort would mean nothing.

Maybe the fitness message seems intuitive to those of us in the industry -- workout, be healthier, be happier, cost employers and the nation less money. But, sadly, it's not -- not even for legislators and for our own very active president. So now's the time to band together and take action. Well, the time was actually long ago, but better late than never. So whether you're a club of any size, a retailer, or a manufacturer of either commercial or home equipment or both, think about taking the time to get involved by either attending or following up.

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