You know how to identify quacks in the medical field. As Dr. William T. Jarvis, president of the national Council Against Health Fraud, recently said they are the ones who want the public to see them as “Galileo types who have been ostracized — that their work has merit and they are not getting just recognition.” They have a “medical breakthrough,” a “super cure,” an “exclusive secret formula,” “knowledge that surpasses any in the medical field.” They warn the patient that ordinary physicians “are part of an establishment conspiracy” to keep the truth from the public.
We’ve known our share of quacks in the fitness field, although the most visibly abusive of them have been various hawkers of nutritional supplements of questionable composition and doubtful effectiveness. Of course there have been exercise leaders devoted to some kooky exercise schemes. But, I have not noticed them often seeking and getting national exposure — until recently.
I was home the other day doing some really boring, repetitive work that I thought could be made more bearable by running the TV in the background. After hearing the Headline News repeat a couple of times, I tuned past some really pitiful people on the talk shows, nixed the soap operas and landed in the home exercise equipment infomercials. These shows were like revival meetings — exercise leaders playing the role of Elmer Gantry bringing “ordinary exercisers” to the religious experience that this particular piece of equipment was just what they needed, and all that they needed, in their exercise life. Health clubs? There’s a list of reasons they’re not for you. Other equipment? Forget it! They’re all losers compared to our miracle machine: You’ll never need another piece of exercise equipment.
While no one is likely to die from this quackery, it certainly adds to the confusion of the public that is already too confused to respond confidently to legitimate offers of services by fitness centers. Is this reaching many people? The National Sporting Goods Association says that $160 million in purchases of exercise equipment were made in 1994 through TV shopping (that’s 6.5 percent of the exercise equipment market). It’s the disinformation, not the sale of home equipment that is most damaging. There are other examples of calculated confusion:
* “important notice — Incredible News Shocks the Fitness Field — Women Exercise Wrong!” This two-page headline was in the June/July issue of a slick magazine just breaking onto newsstands across the nation and circulated to members of participating health clubs in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and New York. “Could it be that everything women have been doing up to now is wrong?” the article asks. “Yes,” is the answer. And, guess what: At the end of the article there’s a book you can have for $27.95 that tells you “the only way women should train.”
* “Over 99 percent of the [fitness] industry is bogus,” says the October issue of a newsletter advancing strength training with slow movements as the only legitimate exercise. The author bases this on the “guess that over 90 percent of all the products and services listed in the Fitness Management Products & Services Source Guide are of the aerobics persuasion. And most of the remaining 10 percent is comprised of other bogus and dangerous notions.” Is your copy of the Source Guide like his?
* A letter recently took me to task for publishing an article “about a concept which does not exist and is a myth and in large part a falsehood or lie: the THR (target heart rate).” This person has published a book on the subject, and says that exercise scientists will be changing the textbooks — in the future, of course.
Common threads in these cases: 1) Someone has something to sell, 2) the product may not be all that bad, 3) they present the product as the whole world of exercise, and 4) they argue at length that anyone who disagrees with them knows nothing.
If this is a trend toward contentious, confusing marketing, it is one more reason that facility owners should ally themselves through professional bodies and trade associations and follow standard practices that enhance a credible, ethical public image.