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Truthsayers, Not Pitchmen

Sometimes, TV reporters must deliver the news as they stand exposed to blizzards, hurricanes, and other sorts of storms. A while ago, watching a newsman braving torrential rain, I felt sorry for him until I heard his next report—a “hatchet job” on a health club. Misinformation about our business is a problem we all face.

The reporter began by interviewing staff members from a moderately priced facility who offered excellent advice about doing a variety of exercises: moderate stretching and strength and cardiovascular endurance training.

They cautioned him to start light, increasing exercise duration and intensity gradually. They also suggested that he eat a varied diet, and, if he wanted to lose weight, that he do so relatively slowly.

The staff did a professional job—especially given the short time allotted to this “sound bite”—and made it clear that their club provided effective and enjoyable programs that met people’s needs.

But, after all of that, the camera focused on the reporter, who concluded, “Clubs are too expensive. So, just buy yourself a pair of tennis shoes and run!”

I shuddered at his comment, which made no sense, and, in fact, contradicted the information that had just been presented. It was a personal, unsubstantiated opinion, not reasonable and responsible journalism. I found myself wondering, if people are supposed to “just go out and run,” where should they run, how fast, how far, and how frequently? And did he mean tennis or running shoes?

The next time I see that reporter, I hope he’s shivering in the middle of a blizzard.

His alleged reportage underlined the fact that, because there’s so much information and so many opinions about exercise—accurate and thoughtful, as well as inaccurate and misleading—many people today simply don't know what to think or believe. Complicating matter further is the modern-day version of the old-fashioned medicine show, with hucksters selling "elixirs," rather than the sober truch that getting and remaining fit requires commitment and consistent effort.

Consider this: In July, the Associated Press reported that a federal judge in Chicago found Kevin Trudeau, an author and infomercial pitchman, in contempt of court for failing to pay the $37.6-million fine imposed for his misleading ads for The Weight Loss Cure They Don’t Want You to Know About, one of his wildly popular weight- loss books.

The FTC has been pursuing Trudeau for years, because the ads describe his diet plan as being easy and one that allows adherents to eat anything they like. In actuality, it requires “severe dieting,” daily injections of a prescription drug not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) for weight loss, and “lifelong dietary restrictions.”

Over the years, we’ve heard many false claims about fad diets, gadgets, and nostrums. Some people haven’t joined our clubs because they’re now using, or have used, these methods. Most clubs, however, offer great value and sound advice that’s much more effective, and safer, than that offered by the many opinionated and ignorant “experts,” hucksters, and scam artists who are out there.

Our industry isn’t a medicine show, and we don’t sell elixirs. We offer research-based, time-tested methods, and we tend to “under-promise” so that we can “over-deliver.”

That’s a tougher sell than the apocryphal quick-and-easy.

But, unlike the purveyors of false information, we can be proud of what we do.  

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