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Last Updated: Friday, 25 August 2006, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Gym members 'throw in the towel'
Man in gym
UK gyms may be getting emptier
As the government warns the UK could soon be facing an obesity epidemic, more Britons are turning their back on health clubs, a study has suggested.

Deloitte's A survey of health club trends showed member numbers fell 53,500 to 1.42m in the year to June.

The drop in membership comes despite joining fees falling 17%, but monthly subscription fees rose 3.5% to 39.05.

A drop in consumer spending - sparked by rising bills and interest rates - may be behind the drop, Deloitte said.

"With conditions becoming tougher in the UK domestic economy, many consumers are opting to cut their discretionary spending," said Adrian Balcome, leisure partner at Deloitte.

"The leisure industry, like all consumer-focused businesses is entering a tough time. "

Membership struggle

The report warned that many areas of the UK could already be at risk of turning into couch potatoes.

The industry needs to react quickly, as, despite heightened awareness of obesity problems... consumers are not yet opting to join health clubs
Adrian Balcome, Deloitte

All 13 areas of the UK struggled to generate new members, and not one region managed to record any growth in new membership.

While inner London managed to remain steady, Northern Ireland and the West Midlands were the regions throwing in the towel - membership declined by 7.6% and 6.5% respectively in those areas.

Mr Balcome also warned clubs would have to act fast to halt the decline in membership as profit margins in the industry are under pressure.

Spending crunch

While lowering joining fees may attract new members, it will not help existing members who are looking to tighten their purse strings, he warned.

"The industry needs to react quickly, as, despite heightened awareness of obesity problems and the link between health and fitness, consumers are not yet opting to join health clubs, and clubs are not achieving expected growth in member numbers," Mr Balcome said.

A previous Deloitte survey said that if more of the population exercised regularly, the economy would benefit from increased gym fees, as well as lower costs to business through fewer sick days.

Meanwhile, lower sickness levels would lead to fewer doctors visits and so lower NHS costs.

The latest Deloitte survey comes as government research has predicted more than 12 million adults and one million children will be obese by 2010 if no action is taken.

The Deloitte survey only tracked the performance of the UK's health club industry - covering 1.4 million members of 470 health clubs including the chains Fitness First and Holmes Place - and did not include public facilities.

Also, it did not reveal whether more consumers were choosing the cheap option of exercising at home or heading out for a jog.

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