Health Clubs Filling Void Left By Cuts to Recess/PE


As a trade association for fitness centers, IHRSA is responsible for creating and fostering an industry marketplace for creative programming. A particularly robust segment of that marketplace relates to youth programming in health clubs. Ideas are swirling about engagement, program design, and how to collaborate with communities to fill gaps left by budget cuts to recess and physical education.

To the surprise of policymakers, the health club market is already serving millions of American children.

In fact, IHRSA surveys indicate:

  • 26 percent of commercial health clubs offer youth-specific programming
  • 20 percent of commercial health clubs offer a kids-only section
  • Commercial health clubs serve more than 5.7 million members under the age of 18, including 2.3 million between 6 and 12 years old, and 3.4 million between 13 and 17
  • The number of children using commercial health clubs has increased by 209 percent since 1990

IHRSA recently profiled several clubs offering youth programming. One club, for example, reported great success and engagement with age-appropriate versions of historically adult programs, such as yoga, Zumba, boxing, mixed martial arts, and triathlon clinics. Other notable programs include physical education classes, after school “active” care, climbing wall sessions, suspension training, tumbling classes, group cycling, and even cooking classes.

In earlier posts, we’ve noted that health clubs provide a safe location, supportive environment, and a variety of options for meaningful physical activity, but behavior research points to additional benefits for children.  

For example, family health club memberships can positively influence and reinforce healthy behaviors of both children and adults. As one IHRSA member recently noted, “In many communities, health clubs are one of the few places where families can exercise: parents can work out, while their children are having fun and getting healthy. We make it easy for them.” This family dynamic is particularly important for youth fitness in light of recent research findings that suggest that children are influenced by their parents’ activity levels.

Of course, any discussion about improving population health must consider the cost of implementation. Certainly, membership fees are a factor in determining the overall impact of the fitness industry to improve the fitness levels of American youth, but to a much lesser degree than commonly assumed.  Health clubs may not be the right option for every American, but we believe that affordable choices exist for the great majority of American families. Often, affordability is simply a matter of budgetary priorities and Americans have an unfortunate history of assigning a low value to physical activity. When compared with the monthly cost of premium cable TV, cell phone service, junk food, video games, or even coffee, a health club membership can be a very accessible option.

What are some youth programs that could be implemented in a fitness center?