22 Sep 2021 World leisure: news, training & property
 
 
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SELECTED ISSUE
Health Club Management
2021 issue 4

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Leisure Management - Fit miles

Policy

Fit miles


The health and fitness industry felt as though it wasn’t invited to its own party when news of the government’s Fit Miles programme broke. But what does it actually mean and is it good or bad news for the sector? Kath Hudson investigates

The UK government’s new Fit Miles programme will invest millions in apps, weight management groups and other services photo: shutterstock/ Kzenon

As part of the obesity strategy published in July 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care is administering a programme which will make £100m available to support people achieve and maintain a healthier weight.

Led by Sir Keith Mills of Nectar points and Airmiles fame, it will use incentives and rewards to encourage healthy behaviours. More than £70m will be invested in weight management services, made available through the NHS and councils. Up to 700,000 adults will gain access to support to help them lose weight, including digital apps, weight management groups, coaches and specialist clinical support.

Part of the funding from the £30m pot will go towards upskilling healthcare professionals to support those working with children, with interventions and enhanced training packages. It will be aimed at those in most need, including in the most deprived areas of the country.

Many people in the industry felt indignant the government had launched a weight loss initiative without getting us on board or even mentioning to the sector that the scheme was launching. Surely the health and fitness sector is a natural partner, so why do we keep getting overlooked? Or is this actually good news? Is it a sign that at long last the NHS will be moving towards a prevention model? Will there be opportunities for the sector further down the road? And how do we make sure we’re ready to grab them? We explore the issues.

Nick Whitcombe
Industry campaigner
photo: Nick Whitcombe

Any endorsement of health and fitness on a national scale is positive, and if this is what gets our foot in the door to begin a wider conversation around bettering the nation’s health and truly protecting our NHS then it is certainly a step in the right direction.

Government has allocated £100m to tackle obesity with a plan that, according to the prime minister, will aid 700,000 people. This represents just 1 per cent of the population, when 50 per cent are overweight and 30 per cent are obese.

The NHS is haemorrhaging £9bn a year managing obesity and Type 2 diabetes, with a further cost to wider society of £30bn per year. So it seems underwhelming that the government’s plan is to spend £100 million to tackle a £30bn problem. Aiding 1 per cent when more than 50 per cent need support.

Encouraging additional activity is a good move for mental health, although it will be near impossible to assess the success of the scheme in terms of increased steps, as there is no baseline to measure against.

An hour’s extra walking per day equates to all of 250 kcals on average, this will do very little to tackle the obesity crisis. We’re essentially hoping to heal a gunshot wound with a plaster and a lollipop.

What is needed is a Work Out to Help Out scheme, to subsidise gym memberships for three months by 50 per cent. We are campaigning for £500m and have set a conservative goal of a 50 per cent increase in service users during this time. Putting this into perspective, the hospitality industry’s Eat Out to Help Out resulted in a 214 per cent increase in service users. As our sector already saves the country about £24bn a year, Work Out to Help Out could save an additional £3bn in 12 weeks. Therefore making a profit of £2.5bn.

This could protect our NHS, reduce public spending, increase the quality of national health, all of which is achievable if government opens communication channels with our sector when planning the scheme.

It seems underwhelming that the government’s plan is to spend £100 million to tackle a £30bn problem
Andy King
Link4Life
photo: Link4Life

As a sector are we guilty of talking ourselves out of believing we can help address the obesity problem in this country? Are we missing a trick by not having a clear proposition for the NHS and failing our public by not doing all we can to address obesity?

We need to address the confidence issues we seem to have and agree we can offer a service at least as good, if not better, than anyone else.

A ‘whole systems’ approach to the issue is required. The new Sport England Strategy and the chance we now have to rethink ourselves as a sector gives us a fantastic opportunity to reposition ourselves as wellbeing centres for the community. We need a national plan which places public sector leisure at the heart of a new wellbeing approach and we need Sport England to work with the NHS to agree how our sector can offer it exceptional value by providing weight management and other services, utilising our assets in order to signpost the sector.

Our sector is facing a fundamental, existential crisis, yet the population has never needed more support to address a multitude of long-term conditions. Can we help people towards a healthy attitude to life by utilising our qualified staff and facilities? Or shall we continue leaving this complex issue to others who are happy to be commissioned to deliver where we feel we are not able?

We need to collaborate and agree on some national solutions – what’s working out there now that we could scale? How can we co-design programmes with health, as we have in Greater Manchester with the GM Cancer Team? If we get our act together no one will be able to match our sector. As my late dad used to say: “if not you, then who?”

Are we missing a trick by not having a clear proposition for the NHS?
Dave Wright
Myzone: CEO
photo: Myzone

Anything that gets more people moving and inspires a behavioural shift to create positive lifestyle changes is a good idea. Especially now, as never before have so many people been aware of the need for physical activity both for the body and mind.

Fitness professionals weren’t consulted for Fit Miles because we’re still widely perceived to be all about six packs, marathons and heavy lifts. Despite all the good work done in the last year to reach out to communities, as an industry we still need to do more to impart the message that we’re not all about high intensity and hitting the red zone.

To tie in with the Fit Miles agenda, the sector needs an innovation in approach and to genuinely embrace change on a huge scale. We need the empathy to meet people where they want to work out, whether that’s in the gym, at home or outside. Remote classes are here to stay, and so are brick and mortar gyms. Offering both options is the only way to engage communities of the future.

We feel that Myzone Effort Points could offer the government a proven turnkey solution to monitor physical activity as part of the Fit Miles scheme: 1300 MEPs each month equates to the WHO guidelines for physical activity. MEPs have already been used to good effect partnering with the NHS on prehab programmes.

To tie in with the Fit Miles agenda, the sector needs to genuinely embrace change on a huge scale
The fitness sector was not consulted about the Fit Miles initiative / photo: Myzone
Lynn Almond
GLL: regional health intervention manager
photo: GLL

As a leisure employee, my kneejerk reaction to this news was to feel the health and fitness sector had been overlooked, but after looking deeper into it from a wider public health perspective, I see this as good news. Conversations are changing and this is the most open and accessible opportunity that I’ve seen in a long time.

When you look at research studies into the outcomes of Nectar and Air Miles you can see why the government has chosen this route, it’s all about incentivising people to change behaviour by making small changes. This initiative has the potential to reach the whole population, providing vital insight into individual behaviours, which will open up a multitude of opportunities for our sector.

Going forward, the sector needs to evolve, as the profile of gym goers is likely to change. If we’re going to survive, we need to refocus both our purpose and the customers we’re trying to attract. COVID has shone a light on the health inequalities and emphasised that more people need to get active. Also some of the super motivated – a cohort the sector relies on for memberships – have found other ways to exercise.

Membership models may change as membership could start to come through referrals from NHS pathways. Operators need to ask themselves questions: what is our purpose in terms of contribution to reducing health inequalities and which groups are a priority in the places we serve?

This is a refreshing move and the chance to work collaboratively with the NHS. It’s a sign that prevention is now being considered: something which I am witnessing in my role working with NHS integrated care systems.

This is just the start and there will be a raft of opportunities. As the sector starts afresh after the lockdowns, this is the time to refocus, link in with the prevention agenda, be a support system for the NHS and refocus on the customers we’re trying to attract.

This is a refreshing move and the chance to work collaboratively with the NHS
Our sector needs to evolve, as the profile of gym goers is likely to change, says Lynn Almond / photo: GLL

Originally published in Health Club Management 2021 issue 4

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