Paying for gyms; Fatter than ever

It is sad really. Millions of people are wasting money on gym memberships they don’t use. Even worse, millions more are using their gym and not achieving the desired results. I have said before that more than 80% of people who walk into the gym don’t meet their goals. In a national that continues to grow, literally, who can afford to pay for nothing?

Let us think about why people join gyms in the first place. Because every physician, health educator, journalist, health insurer, and medical institution, as well as the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society, are all advising their readers, patients, and clients that regular exercise is vital to a healthy, successful life. Because gossip magazines exploit celebrity weight loss or gain, report celebrity successes and failures with fad diets and workouts, etc. Further, look at any issue of any major women’s magazine and you will find numerous articles with advice for attaining health and happiness through a balanced diet and regular exercise.

Every major media outlet has a health journalist part of who reports on new research and highlights the benefits of regular exercise. But who is reaping the benefits of those unused gym memberships?

A nation gets fatter

The national obesity report, F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010, indicates that in 2009, just 10 states and D.C. had obesity rates below 25 percent, compared with 19 states in 2008. In 2008, only four states (Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia) had obesity rates over 30%. That number doubled in 2009 to eight states, adding Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arkansas to that list.

As a nation we’ve actively recognized the threat of obesity for decades. Yet obesity rates continue to increase year after year. According to the F as in Fat report, adult obesity rates increased in 28 states in one year.  15 of those states increased for the second and eleven states for the third year in a row. To counteract the now obvious obesity threat, government programs, initiatives, and policies have exploded on both state and federal levels, especially in the past few years.

Initiatives like Let’s Move and President Obama’s Task Force on Childhood Obesity have earned a great deal of publicity. Does history escape us? Haven’t we been trying government initiatives for years? For example, what happened with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Healthy People 2000 and Healthy People 2010? Lofty goals were set and not met.

Launched in January 2000, Healthy People 2010 set a national goal to reduce adult obesity rates to 15% in every state by the year 2010. Not one state met this goal. In fact, most states now report higher rates than they did in 2000 and 30 states are more than 10% away from meeting that goal! Colorado had the lowest rate and was closest to meeting the goal with an obesity rate of 19.1%. Do you know what HHS’s reaction to missing the goal was? They revised the national physical activity and fitness objectives, for a third time, for Healthy People 2020.

Why all the health clubs?

Despite the flood of initiatives, only two states, Arizona and Louisiana, and D.C. saw an increase in reported adult physical activity levels. So then why is it every time you turn around a new health club has opened its doors? It’s not because of the increase in demand and usage of these facilities. Let’s do the math. There are approximately 29,750 health clubs (including YMCAs and community centers) in the United States, compared to 16,883 in 2001 (IHRSA, 2010). But the F as in Fat report indicates that the number of adults participating in no physical activity at all rose in 12 states. Maybe I’m not smart enough to figure it out, but it just doesn’t add up!

According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsman Association (IHRSA), 45.3 million U.S. residents currently have a gym membership (up from 33.8 million in 2002). However of that 45.3 million, only 36.8% attend their health club 100 or more days of the year. These gyms continue to recruit new members, knowing that few will make use of the membership. They want your money, and don’t care if you use the gym. In fact, I’m sure they are happy when you don’t use the gym because they have an increase in revenue without an increase in equipment maintenance spending.

The bottomline

The layman’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  Are you ready to see the results you’ve been working for? As the general population continues to get fatter, it’s time for something different.

Eat Clean. Play hard. Love life.


I recently read in the USA Today that three states saw decreases in child obesity rates this past year – the states were applauded for their efforts and other states were encouraged to follow their lead. However, these improvements were limited to the white, upper-class. Is that worthy of applauding? I’m not sure, I will let you decide.


IHRSA Statistics retrieved from:

Trust for America’s Health (June 2010), F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010.



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