Health and Fitness Industry Urges Legislative Solutions to Help Rebuild America's Health

4th Annual IHRSA Legislative Summit Focuses on Employee and Family Wellness
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WASHINGTON, May 15 -- The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) announced today that more than 110 of its members from the U.S. health and fitness industry will gather on Capitol Hill on May 17 and 18 to encourage Congress to create legislative initiatives to provide Americans with the type of practical, everyday support they will need to transform our culture back to a physically active society. IHRSA members will urge Congress to adopt health promotion legislation as part of the solution to America's looming health crisis.

As the number of Americans with obesity, diabetes, prediabetes, and other lifestyle-related chronic diseases continues to climb at an alarming rate, this fourth annual Legislative Summit will focus on increasing physical activity to help rebuild America's health. Visits with Members of Congress will focus largely on ways to support exercise within the workplace -- such as the Workforce Health Improvement Program (WHIP) Act (H.R.1634, S.772) -- and on ways to make it easier for American families and older adults to exercise.

"The 30-year-long slide into sedentary lifestyles that we've seen in this country can't be fixed over night," says Helen Durkin, Director of Public Policy at IHRSA. "If we are to turn this trend of inactivity and chronic disease around, we will need to create a culturally supportive environment for regular physical activity. In addition to the necessary tools for physical activity -- whether that means access to a health club, a park, or just a safe sidewalk -- Americans need to know that it is OK to exercise -- and that we should exercise. To a very large extent, the 'thumbs up' on taking time to care for our health needs to be seen in the workplace -- where so many of us spend the greatest amount of our time."

Numerous studies have found that people who exercise regularly are significantly less likely to suffer from obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, stroke, various forms of cancer, osteoporosis, depression, and anxiety. In fact, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports reports that 30 percent of deaths from coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, and colon cancer would be prevented by moderate intensity physical activity that expended 1000 kcal/week.(1) And the American Cancer Society estimates that about one-third (188,277) of U.S. cancer deaths in 2006 will be due to poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, and excess weight.(2)

"Every day more research comes to light documenting the link between physical activity and good health," Durkin continues. "For more than 25 years, the health and fitness industry has been dedicated to showing Americans the way to good health through exercise. This week we're on Capitol Hill to help Congress come up with real-world solutions to help Americans take back their health."

Featured speakers at IHRSA's Legislative Summit include Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), founder and current Co-Chairman of the Congressional Fitness Caucus and original sponsor of the WHIP Act-H.R. 1634; Frank I. Luntz, Ph.D., of The Luntz Research Companies and one of the most honored communication professionals in America today; political columnist and commentator Mark Shields; and Dr. Miriam Nelson, author of the best-selling Strong Women book series and Director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

About the WHIP Act

Introduced in April 2005 by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Tom Harkin (D-IA), and by Congressmen Zach Wamp (R-TN) and Mark Udall (D-CO), the WHIP Act improves worker wellness through increased levels of physical activity by allowing for the balanced tax treatment of fitness center memberships as an employee benefit.

Specifically, the WHIP Act reaffirms an employer's right to deduct the cost of subsidizing or providing off-site health fitness center benefits to their workers. And it excludes the wellness benefit from being considered additional taxable income for employees. Current law allows employees to use on-site fitness facilities free of any tax implications. But when a business needs to outsource this health benefit, employees who receive off-site fitness center subsidies are required to pay income tax on the benefits. And their employers bear the associated administrative costs of complying with IRS rules. The WHIP Act eliminates this tax on off-site fitness center subsidies, making it easier for all employers to offer important exercise incentives for their workers.

IHRSA is a member of the Workplace Fitness Coalition, a diverse group of 23 organizations that recognize the importance of physical activity and that support this legislation. Among its members are the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity, American College of Sports Medicine, the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, Citizens Against Government Waste and Americans for Tax Reform.

About IHRSA

IHRSA is a not-for-profit trade association representing health and fitness facilities, gyms, spas, sports clubs and suppliers worldwide. IHRSA is committed to taking a leadership role in advancing physical activity, which is critical to America's health and the battle against obesity and disease. IHRSA supports effective national initiatives to promote more active lifestyles and is working to pass laws that will help affect societal changes toward a more fit America.
(1) Costs and Consequences of Sedentary Living: New Battleground for an
Old Enemy. President's Council of Physical Fitness and Sports, March
1, 2002.
(2) Cancer Prevention & Early Detection Facts and Figures 2006 (CPED),
American Cancer Society. April 2006.

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