SGMA continues drive for fitness-oriented legislation

The SGMA and its members will take to Capitol Hill in early March to continue its march to achieve legislation that could not only encourage the public to get healthier but could also have benefits for companies offering fitness, exercise and health products. Now called the "Health-through-Fitness Day," the lobbying drive on March 7 will bring together several dozen SGMA members who, after learning about key legislation, will meet with legislators to educate them and to seek support.
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The SGMA and its members will take to Capitol Hill in early March to continue its march to achieve legislation that could not only encourage the public to get healthier but could also have benefits for companies offering fitness, exercise and health products.

Now called the "Health-through-Fitness Day," the lobbying drive on March 7 will bring together several dozen SGMA members who, after learning about key legislation, will meet with legislators to educate them and to seek support.

This day has in the past been in late April or early May and has been part of National PE4Life Day, an event that emphasized lobbying for school PE by the non-profit PE4Life group. But SGMA realized the message went way beyond kids.

"We've evolved into PE plus adults," said SGMA marketing director Kalinda Mathis. "We've broadened the scope of the message from PE and getting kids active to fitness being the solution to … the obesity crisis."

As a part of the day (for more on it, go to www.getinvolved.sgma.com), participants will educate about and lobby for the so-called PHIT bill, which came about on a bit of a whim after brainstorming at the September 2005 "Fitness Fly-In" event. The PHIT bill, which was re-introduced in January 2007 as H.R. 245, would seek to solve financial issues in getting healthy and fit by providing certain tax breaks for fitness-oriented purchases through pre-existing pre-tax medical accounts. The sponsor is Jerry Weller, R-Ill., a member of the House Ways and Means committee.

"It's now a legitimate piece of legislation with sponsors," Mathis said.

It was first introduced in 2006. The acronym "PHIT" stands for "Personal Health Investment Today." Now, support also comes from the National Coalition for the Promotion of Physical Activity (NCPPA), which consists of major health organizations such as the American Diabetes Association and American Cancer Society and sports trade groups, such as SGMA and IHRSA.

PHIT would strive to change current federal tax law to allow the use of pre-tax dollars to cover some expenses related to physical activity, such as organized and individual sports, fitness, exercise and recreation. The proposal is for Americans to be able to use up to $1,000 annually to pay for these activities by placing money in existing Flexible Spending Accounts or other similar accounts. PHIT would only expand the list of eligible expenses for which someone could use the money invested.

Participants in the SGMA event will also lobby for the PEP bill, which slates money that is used for teacher training and gear for school PE. It is once again slated to be eliminated this year, although lobbying like this event likely saved it last year, when it was also slated to be cut. (To read more about the initiatives, click here to read a June 23, 2006, SNEWS® story, "SGMA Fitness Fly IN becomes Fitness Fly OUT to lobby Congress.")

"With the PHIT Bill and the PEP Bill, SGMA has a chance to work with the U.S. Congress to send a serious message about the importance of regular physical exercise. This legislation could possibly revolutionize the nation's attitude about physical fitness," Bill Sells, SGMA's director of government relations, said in a statement. "Too many people are overweight due to inactivity and that trend needs to be halted. If not, our nation's health care costs could reach $4 trillion by 2015."

As usual, an array of sports celebrities will participate in the event to help attract the attention of legislators. They will include NFL Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow (San Diego Chargers), current NFL quarterback Chad Pennington (New York Jets), former Wimbledon and U.S. Open tennis champ Stan Smith, NFL wide receiver Antwaan Randle-El (Washington Redskins), and ex-major league second baseman Ted Sizemore (Dodgers/Cardinals/Phillies/Cubs/Red Sox).

SNEWS® View: The experience of heading to the hill, learning about lobbying, then actually sitting in legislators' offices to do the talking can't be described. If you have not done it and you are or will be or want to be in the D.C. area on March 7, take the day to drop in. The more there are involved from different segments of the industry, the more impact the lobbying will have and the more legislators the attendees can meet with. We applaud the SGMA for continuing to focus on this sort of drive which in the long run is not only good for American citizens but also for the industry as a whole.

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