IHRSA hopes to flex industry muscle on Capitol Hill

With a relentless news barrage of alarming facts and figures about America's obesity epidemic, IHRSA will head to Capitol Hill May 19-21 for its second annual Legislative Summit to lobby legislators to work to improve the nation's health and promote clubs.
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With a relentless news barrage of alarming facts and figures about America's obesity epidemic, IHRSA will head to Capitol Hill May 19-21 for its second annual Legislative Summit to lobby legislators to work to improve the nation's health and promote clubs.

And the non-profit health club association is encouraging not only its club members, but also other fitness industry members and manufacturers to attend the summit.

"The industry needs to flex its collective muscle," David Jordan, IHRSA's public policy manager, told SNEWS®. "We want health club operators to know that they can talk to legislators about the obesity crisis and be heard. Our goals are to increase industry participation in the political process, to enhance the industry's political clout and to gain support for health promotion legislative initiatives."

In addition to knocking on congressional office doors to sit down with legislators, summit attendees will learn about what's next on IHRSA's health promotion agenda, such as Section 125 flexible spending accounts, tax credit for health facility memberships and funding for physical education in schools. One key lobbying item will be the Worksite Health Improvement Program (WHIP), which has a goal of equalizing tax treatment of both on-site and off-site corporate-subsidized fitness facilities and programs. In addition, keynote speaker Chris Matthews, host of "Hardball with Chris Matthews" and "The Chris Matthews Show," will discuss how organizations pushing for change can succeed in Washington, D.C. Other speakers include Melissa Johnson, executive director of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and Greg Crister, author of "Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World."

One 2003 attendee, Ken Lucas, president of Matrix Fitness Systems which is also sponsoring this year's event along with Cybex and Technogym, said he encourages the industry to get off the sidelines.

"This event is about taking a decisive action to further the cause of the fitness industry," Lucas said, "and everyone in the industry should support it not only with their dollars, but also by joining us in Washington to meet face-to-face with their representatives."

First-time summit attendees and those a tad gun-shy about personally bending the ears of legislators can participate in a Lobbying 101 pre-meeting briefing that will lay out the basics of each issue and how best to relay the message to representatives. New this year is a rally on Capitol Hill on May 21 to increase congressional awareness for IHRSA's "Get Active America" public outreach campaign that invites Americans to visit participating health clubs for free from May 17-23.

"We want people to come away with the knowledge, tools and resources they need to advocate for the industry in their community and at the state and federal levels," Jordan said. "They need to get comfortable picking up the phone and speaking to their congresspersons -- they must realize that they can make a difference."

Last year's summit, which was described as "a complete home run" by one attendee, attracted 120 people from 28 states, Canada and the United Kingdom. IHRSA is hoping this year's event will grow to 200 industry representatives from all 50 states.

The fee for the summit is $275 per person for IHRSA members and $375 for non-members, which covers seminars, educational programs, briefing materials, dinner on Thursday night and Chris Matthews' presentation. Although there is no registration deadline, IHRSA encourages interested industry members to register as soon as possible to help with planning. For more information or to register, contact IHRSA at 800-228-4772 or go to www.ihrsa.org/summit.

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