More fitness facilities, more obesity: what’s going on?

Pam Cheing asks, why aren’t we making a bigger impact on the nation’s obesity problem?

Two-thirds of Australians are now either overweight or obese, according to the Heart Foundation. The foundation has also published findings showing that the average weight of Australian men has increased by 6.5kg (to 85.9kg) and the average weight of Australian women by 5.7kg (now 71.1kg). These figures have once again highlighted the significance of this issue. There’s no escaping the fact that Australia has one of the highest obesity rates among developed nations.

The cost of obesity (direct and indirect) is estimated to cost the country a whopping $88 billion over the next decade according to a report by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) in terms of treatment of weight-related illness, higher hospitalisation rates, career opportunity loss and spikes in illnesses such as diabetes. Considering this, obese individuals are also, unsurprisingly, estimated to have a shorter life expectancy.

The changing tempo of fitness in Australia
15 per cent of Australians are active gym members, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
An Ibis World Market research report valued the current industry at $1.3 billion dollars. The Cost of Being Fit report conducted by the Suncorp Bank detailed the average spending of Australian households on fitness-related items, with the average Australian investing close to $75 a month on health and fitness.

The fitness industry consists of around 2,800 businesses nationwide (not including sole trader PTs) and has the fastest-growing jobs nationally, with the number of fitness instructors expected to increase by 28.5 per cent in the next five years. The growth of the industry in Australia in recent decades, therefore, appears to be at odds with the country’s increasing obesity levels. So, what’s going on?

The truth about gyms and members
Trent Brown, CEO gym membership software company iconnect360, makes the point that most businesses in the fitness industry tend to overlook the fact that only 57.9 per cent of gym members are actively attending every month. This means that while members are contributing membership fees every month, nearly 40 per cent of them are not participating in fitness activities. Sadly for these individuals, it takes more than simply paying membership fees to reap the benefits of a gym membership: you have to actually work out.

Despite the fact that Australians are advised to participate in 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity week, data from iconnect360 showed that most gym members only check in at their gyms an average 7.4 times each month. This indicates that fitness businesses have a far bigger challenge than ‘just’ getting the other 40 per cent of gym members to attend – they also have to create experiences that are powerful, fun and effective enough to ensure that their regular members use the facilities on a far more regular basis. Doing so will both increase their long-term health benefits, and the likelihood of their remaining a member with the club.

Brown said, ‘The challenge for professionals in the health and fitness industry is to use the data our software provides about gym attendance and memberships, to help members overcome barriers to exercise.’

Businesses must now think further ahead to keep their members happy, and retained, for as long as possible. With fears of market saturation and an expectation of a low 3.3 per cent growth rate in the fitness industry over the next five years, it has become apparent that it will not be the gym that’s best-furnished that will win the race in the long run, but the business that truly understands the needs and behaviour of its target market.

Industry snapshot
  • The fitness industry in Australia is worth $1.3 billion dollars, but market growth is expected to be capped at 3.3 per cent for the next 5 years due to saturation
  • Obesity in Australia has increased from 22 per cent in 2010 to 26 per cent in 2015, with a price tag of $88 billion tagged as obesity cost
  • Some data shows less than 60 per cent of paying members attend the gym on a monthly basis
  • The data also indicates that those members who do attend are not doing so frequently enough, i.e. only 7.4 times each month
  • Membership rates and sales growth is not a good indication of the true lifestyle of the modern Australian, but it does indicate a serious problem for gyms and fitness centres in the long run
  • Fitness businesses face severe attrition in the long term if they do not plan to nurture errant gym members and encourage current members to increase their workout attendance.


Pam Cheing is the marketing manager for gym membership software company iconnect360.