Lobbying on Capitol Hill for fitness: SGMA’s 11th annual event draws suppliers, athletes and retailers

Fitness and sports industry representatives spent a day on the Hill meeting with legislators in support of two bills that would benefit industries focused on physical activity. Find out what they learned and how it could affect you.
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Fitness and sporting goods manufacturers and retailers, pumped up by accompanying sports celebrities, took to Capitol Hill this week to ask legislators for their support of various bills that would boost the industry -- and the health of the nation.

In the 11th annual lobbying day organized by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, more than 150 industry members walked the Congressional halls to talk to their legislators in more than 100 meetings with representatives and senators and nearly 30 meetings with key Congressional aides and staff members. (Click here to read more about the event.)

“Obviously, we need to do something as a country and as an industry that has such close ties to these issues” of obesity and inactivity, Mike Olson, a Johnson Fitness vice president and a first-time attendee, told SNEWS®. “Our industry can help be part of the solution.”

The delegation, divided into smaller groups to spread out across the Hill and hold many meetings simultaneously, advocated for support of two key initiatives focused on physical activity:

>> The Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) provides federal money to school districts and community organizations for physical education and innovative physical activity methods. Since 2001, PEP has successfully helped school programs across the country with more than $600 million in grants. The grants are spent on health-and-wellness-based education methods and uses technology such as heart-rate monitors, pedometers and fitness equipment.

>> The Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act could encourage physically active lifestyles by making sports, fitness and recreational activities more affordable -- through the use of tax incentives. Only an idea in 2005, it is now a bill that would change federal tax law to allow for the deduction or use of pre-tax dollars to cover expenses related to sports, fitness and other physical activities. Once an individual or family spent 7.5 percent of its income on qualified medical expenses, it could deduct physical activity expenses directly; PHIT would also allow Americans to invest up to $2,000 annually in existing pre-tax medical accounts to pay for physical activities although it would not increase allowed contributions to pre-existing accounts such as FSAs.

“It is important for our industry to show solidarity on the issue of a fit America,” said Bill Sotis, president of Lifeline USA. “Childhood and adult obesity is at an all time high, leading to chronic diseases that will cost us taxpayers billions of dollars in health-care costs.

“Our industry has solutions,” Sotis, a fifth-time attendee, told SNEWS. “We needed to get that message to legislatures, so they can support the funding needed for PEP grant growth and implementation of PHIT.”

Celebrities and athletes attending included 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, sportscaster Bonnie Bernstein, U.S. Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh, LPGA Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam, andIronman triathlete Katya Meyers. Attendees included representatives from Accusplit, Century Martial Arts, Gatorade, Easton-Bell, NSGA, New Balance, Polar, Reebok and Under Armour. Olson, of Johnson/Horizon, and Sotis, of Lifeline, were two of very few equipment or fitness-specific companies represented, despite the potential advantages to fitness of the bills being touted.

“Passage of these bills can essentially become simple stimulus programs for the sporting goods, specifically, the fitness industry, as equipment, apparel, shoes and other products will be needed in greater numbers for a more active population,” Sotis said, pointing to the need for more fitness equipment and gear manufacturers to take part: “More participants, more coverage, greater force on the Hill. They’ll know we are serious (since we are) ready to spend our work days to visit their ranks to get this point across.”

Olson, too, said that more manufacturers would have more clout: “We need to make sure they don’t get lost in everything else going on in Washington and secure the federal funding required to support these bills. Our industry will benefit from both these programs.”

To read more about fitness-oriented legislation, click here to see a Feb. 21, 2007, SNEWS story.

--Therese Iknoian

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