According to data research company Statista, an expected 3.1 million Canadians will spend US$244 million on dedicated fitness trackers in 2020. In the U.S., 39 million Americans own a fitness tracker and spend US$3.2 billion to count steps, measure heart rate, and analyze many other data points in a quest for a healthy lifestyle.
At CES earlier this month, the top floor of the Sands Convention Center was dedicated to companies promoting fitness, health and wellness. Companies like fitness bike manufacturer Peloton, which debuted at CES a few years ago, now enjoy a market cap exceeding US$4 billion.
Walk the trade show floor and you'd think there was a fitness gold rush captivating us all to get in shape and live well. What CES shows us is that there is an app and "smart" tool for just about everything, including connected toothbrushes to monitor our oral health, connected water bottles to tell us when to hydrate, connected pillows to tell us how we sleep, and even a connected smart toilet with LED lighting and a remote to tell us how we....
So why with so many ways to monitor our health, do we continue to pack on the pounds? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 80% of American men and 77% of American women are overweight and 35% of them are considered obese. Since 1988, obesity has more than doubled in U.S. children and quadrupled in adolescents. Bill Bryson, in his thorough book titled "The Body," observes that "if everyone in the world became the size of Americans, it would be the equivalent of adding one billion people to the world's population.
The average woman in the U.S. today weighs 166 pounds, which is as much as the average man weighed in 1960. The average weight of a U.S male today, meanwhile, is 196 pounds, and the annual cost to the American economy in extra health care for overweight people has been marked at US$150 billion," writes Bryson. This is not a problem exclusively to Americans. Indeed, virtually every country in the western world has a weight problem; 74% of Chileans are overweight, 72% of Mexicans, and 61% of Canadians.
Remember all those fitness trackers? Well, according the Center for Disease Control (CDC), only 20% of people manage even a moderate level of activity, even when a 2012 study of 655,000 people discovered that being active after the age of 40 for just eleven minutes a day (hardly a big ask), added close to two years of life expectancy. According to Bryson, "we have become a society of couch potatoes, defined as someone who sits for six hours or more per day and that lack of activity makes one twice as likely to contract diabetes, twice as likely to have a heart attack, and almost three times more likely to have cardiovascular disease."
It makes you wonder if investing in a fitness business really is a sound investment, seeing how small the market of actual users for such smart trackers really is.
There is an almost universal agreement on the urgency of combating climate change and a given that a civilized society must support and encourage racial and ethnic diversity, the importance of a fair and welcoming immigration policy, the mandate of empowering women, and supporting transgender rights. Yet nobody is talking about the steady weight gain of our citizens and the overall cost such weight adds to our economic well-being.
Perhaps it's time for weight gain to no longer be universally accepted, or at least ignored. Do we get one step closer to solving our climate crisis when we also acknowledge our consumption crisis?
Remember the vibrating smart fork that was the talk of CES a few years ago? It would vibrate if you were eating too much or too fast in an effort to help you lose weight or adopt better eating habits. Maybe next year at CES, we'll see an expansion of this concept with plates that weigh your food and smart dinner tables that analyze your meal and guilt you into adding more vegetables or putting back that extra roll. Now those are companies I'd invest in.
Photo: OrangeTheory Fitness