We're just too darn fat: Can the industry help?

With the federal government finally stepping forward in recent days to say it would put some teeth into the battle against the over-fat nation, the fitness industry could become a benefactor -- if it too steps forward.
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With the federal government finally stepping forward in recent days to say it would put some teeth into the battle against the over-fat nation, the fitness industry could become a benefactor -- if it too steps forward.

Even Tommy G. Thompson, federal secretary of health and human services, made a clear statement recently in a press conference where he showed off the government's new humorous advertising campaign that will run without cost on the networks: "We're just too darn fat."

"I've always thought that it all starts with our industry getting together and lobbying the government," Albert Kessler, owner of HEST fitness specialty retailer, told SNEWS®. He believes that if retailers and the industry get involved and play it right, they could be pivotal in the battle for a fit nation by 2010 or 2015.

"The industry needs to do something right now," he said. "If only all of our manufacturers got together and worked stuff out with the government."

Lobbying events exist, such as the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association event called National PE Day on May 4-5 (www.sgma.com) and IHRSA's second-annual government legislative summit on May 19-21 (www.ihrsa.org). All are welcome -- manufacturers and retailers alike -- with an interest in fitness, getting kids and adults active and government action.

Said Kessler, "It's the stupidest thing they ever did to take fitness out of the schools."

Building interest back up could take a decade when you first reach kids then have to wait for them to become adults, but Kessler says ominously, "I don't think we have 20 years."

Martin Pazzani, Bally Total Fitness chief marketing officer, also agreed that its part of the club's role to be a service to the mainstream and "to help counter the growing obesity problem."

"It's a good business decision; it's a good social decision," Pazzani added.

The government's PSAs are intended to be eye-catching and humorous, if not slightly provocative. In one, a puzzled man turns in a pair of fleshy love handles to a lost-and-found clerk in a department store. In another two boys speaking Spanish find a potbelly on the beach and poke at it with a stick. The message is, the body parts were "lost" when their former owners started exercising. Print ads complete the campaign with similar themes.

Kessler suggested hitting consumers in the pocketbook, a suggestion also floated by Thompson who said Congress should consider giving tax credits to Americans who lose weight, and that health insurers should reduce premiums for people who keep pounds off.

Part of Thompson's enthusiasm is from personal experience. He has lost 15 pounds in the last couple of months, has 10 more to go and had decided if he's going to be "the administration's poster child," he better look the part.

SNEWS® View: We've said so much on this theme, we aren't sure what else there is to say. A government ad campaign is a great start, especially with something provocative. And if the industry is serious about being a part of this push, some of its members from all areas ought to choose a lobbying event and make the investment and commitment to go. SNEWS will be at the SGMA event this year, as well as an outdoor industry association lobbying event next week. Will we see you?

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