Our next series of posts will be focusing on the positive impact that spas can play in the general wellbeing of a society. Considering the first most important step is to ensure that our future generation is healthy, this article explores the current epidemic of childhood obesity and the role of spas in educating the next generation on how to lead healthier lifestyles.
If spas are able to adapt their business models (from one that is purely profit orientated to one that is more focused on client benefit) and tap into new markets and look beyond the stereotypical luxury client profile, the current epidemic of childhood obesity may be a new business opportunity for our industry. Sizing this opportunity will also show the capacity of our industry to be more innovative and imaginative in our service offering and ability to tap into new customer segments.
For the first time in the history of mankind, we as a modern society are facing an important issue where our children, the future generation, might live less than the previous generation. One of the main reasons behind this dramatic forecast is obesity.
In countries like the United States, Canada and Spain, obesity has become an epidemic problem that poses a real threat to general wellbeing of these societies. According to the Journal of the American Association, the main causes of obesity (poor diet and physical inactivity) could overtake tobacco as the leading cause of preventable health in the US.
The problem in the US is particularly serious. At the Health Matters Conference, former President Bill Clinton said that childhood obesity is “the number one public health problem” in the country right now, a dramatic fact that the President linked with the “way we live, the way we organise, and distribute food and consume it”.
In Spain, “30% of teenagers are overweight,” an alarming figure that places this country just behind the US and Scotland regarding obesity. Additional findings confirmed the lack of exercise as a leading cause in this scenario with nearly 40% of youths (13-18) who never practice any sport.
The physical problems associated with obesity are vast. According to the site Stop-Childhood-Obesity.com, “overweight children and adolescents are more likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease (such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes) than are other children and adolescents”.
The Price To Pay
Besides all the health-related implications that we have mentioned before, obesity also poses a serious financial problem to national governments all over the world. In the US, the government is spending US$150 billion a year treating obesity-related illnesses, which is a significant amount of the overall healthcare burden affecting raises among middle class people.
Likewise, the Spanish Government spends nearly €2.5 billion a year on obesity-related treatments. If nothing is done at the preventive level, these costs will increase as “overweight people are more likely to develop diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer”.
The current reactive model of national healthcare systems cannot cope with their ever increasing ageing population’s needs today, let alone these additional costs of the future generation who are supposed to “support” the country and be an integral part in shaping the future economy. Taking into consideration the above mentioned issues, there is a health, social and economic problem that needs to be addressed, and quick.
Fighting Childhood Obesity
There are several projects that have been implemented to deal with this dramatic environment. For instance, First Lady Michelle Obama is leading the project ‘Let’s Move,’ an ambitious initiative aimed at tackling childhood obesity in the United States that counts with the support of the Federal Government. One of the most interesting aspects of this initiative is its comprehensive approach, which brings together different actors including an active participation of parents and schools.
Along those lines, there is a positive increase of community and grass-roots initiatives targeting childhood obesity. ChOOSE HEALTH (Childhood Obesity Overcome by Sleep Education, Healthy Eating, and Aerobically Loving The Heart), an organisation created by high-school student Anita Rao in Texas is just one of the many projects aimed at promoting education about obesity and a healthy living within the school system.
During her speech at the Health Matters Conference, Anita Rao stated that obesity was not only produced by a poor diet and a lack of exercise but also it was the result of bad sleep habits. She also mentioned that her efforts were having an impact thanks to the support of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and tools such as the Healthy Schools Program.
The positive impact of this programme was also highlighted by Dr. Dwayne Proctor, Senior Program Officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who referred to it as “one of the most successful investments in schools thus far”. Dr. Proctor also shared some positive news regarding the decrease of obesity in states like California and New York thanks to the different initiatives that have been already implemented to fight childhood obesity in the US.
How Can Spas Get Involved?
As we have previously discussed, in order to tackle obesity in an effective way a comprehensive approach based on prevention must be in place. This approach also implies that different actors in our society, including the spa industry, have the potential to make a significant contribution to the movement.
In order for our industry to make an impact on this issue, spas need to revisit their business models and service offerings so they can ‘repack’ them on a more preventive role. It is also important to join forces with other fields (nutrition, wellness, etc,) and see how, together, our services can help fight this battle.
The spa industry also needs to get involved with schools and parents, and take on a more educational role empowering children to understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle and step beyond the stereotypical teen spa. If all these synergies are built in a positive and strategic way, the spa industry may take advantage of a new business opportunity where it can also help to create a more healthy future.