SBJ/April 28-May 4/Opinion

Steps to reverse inactivity trend in U.S.

It’s time to face facts: We are standing on the precipice of an inactivity epidemic that will rob our industry of billions of dollars over the next few years. As sports and fitness leaders, we have a responsibility to reverse these trends.

Research from Sports Marketing Surveys Inc. shows the percentage of inactive or totally sedentary Americans increased from 25 percent in 2007 to 28 percent in 2012. This represents 10 million active Americans becoming “couch potatoes” in that five-year span. Perhaps most eye-opening, this number is projected to balloon to more than 31 percent by 2018.

For our industry, that increase will represent a painful $28 billion reduction in sports and fitness retail consumption alone. Fandom also will be affected, with research showing that fandom drops dramatically when Americans become inactive.

The Physical Activity Council classifies Americans in three categories:

1. Inactive or sedentary: Not active in any of 104 activities once in the last year.

2. Active: Participating in any of the 104 common sports or fitness activities.

3. Active to healthy standards: Participating three or more times per week in any of the 104 activities.

According to the council, an “active” person spends twice as much on sports clothing, footwear and equipment as an “inactive” person. People who are “active to healthy standards” spend three times as much. The council also indicates that fandom increases by as much as 100 percent when “inactive” Americans become “active.” These statistics reveal not only what is at stake as the inactivity pandemic continues, but it also should convey the urgency of action required.

PHIT America is a campaign and cause launched in 2013 to encourage regular exercise and physical activity. We know the sports industry has long catered to the most-frequent participants, but all of us have to think about the total market of active Americans. In order to preserve the market as we know it and reverse the damage done by this inactivity snowball, PHIT America believes companies must begin to invest in programs and initiatives with two goals in mind:

1. Creating more individual sport programs focused on a fun and social experience for the average participant.

2. Working together to fight the inactivity pandemic by converting couch potatoes into active and healthy consumers.

There are examples of sport programs that are beginning to reverse the trend, but we need more effort from everyone to get America moving. To fight the inactivity pandemic, we need to focus considerable effort and investment on making sports and fitness participation more relevant in the minds of Americans. By informing people of the importance of staying active, we can improve the overall health of the country and significantly grow our customer base. At a time when more Americans are watching sports than ever before, it is our responsibility to come together to make activity and fitness a bigger priority.

In March, PHIT America joined together with athlete and industry partners for the SFIA National Health Through Fitness Day in Washington, D.C. During this day of lobbying, we met with congressional leaders to share the benefits of physical activity for individuals and the country, and to urge them to support the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act.

If passed, the PHIT Act would allow Americans to use pre-tax dollars on fitness-related expenses, including everything from soccer cleats to gym memberships. This financial incentive encourages Americans of all ages to stay active. At a time when Congress does not agree on much, this piece of legislation boasts strong bipartisan support: Introduced in the House in March 2013, the bill has 19 Democrats and 17 Republicans as co-sponsors.

PHIT America, together with more than 150 sponsors, is working to create what’s called the Movement for a Fit and Healthy America through a coordinated mix of education, advocacy and grassroots campaigns. Every company, organization, retailer, league and national governing body should be part of this cause and campaign. It is critical for everyone in this industry to work together to combat the inactivity epidemic head-on.

Jim Baugh (jim@phitamerica.org) is president and CEO of PHIT America (www.PHITAmerica.org).


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