The unfortunate fact is the health and fitness industry is becoming increasingly more and more about marketing and sales and less about providing quality information, products, and services. Of course, selling has always played a prominent role in health and fitness, but these days, making the sale is more important than ever. It is now common for companies and individual sellers to spend most of their time and energy developing better sales pitches and marketing tactics, as opposed to developing better products and services. In other words, health and fitness is becoming less about helping you succeed in reaching your goals and more about finding ways to manipulate you into buying a particular product or service, regardless if it will benefit you or not.
I know there are a lot of wonderful and qualified people in the health and fitness industry that do put their clients and customers needs first and provide great information, products, and services. However, the problem is most of the information and messages people are exposed to these days does not come directly from quality sources. Instead, the vast majority of the information people see and hear is from businesses or individuals trying to convey a specific message in order to make a sale. As a result, the information is typically biased and designed to manipulate your emotions and/or reinforce a company or organization’s specific point of view. To make matters worse, these messages are often disguised to appear unbiased and informational, even when they are really just targeted advertisements.
All this biased and often misleading or even blatantly untruthful health and fitness information is a source of great concern, because people are exposed to so many half-truths and conflicting messages, that the end result is often just increased confusion and frustration. To add to this confusion, even when the information is truthful, exercise and nutrition information is often presented in an over generalized way, suggesting things like there is 1 best way to exercise or 1 best way to eat and that way should be followed by everyone. A lot of health and fitness information only applies to certain people or specific situations and there is no single approach that works best for everyone, regardless of what marketers want you to believe. Every person is different and exercise or nutrition information that is useful for one person may not work for another person.
It is a shame that so much information is biased, manipulative, or inappropriately used, because a significant portion of the health and fitness industry is constantly learning more about exercise, nutrition, and other things related to how the body works and using that information to help others. Researchers are constantly performing experiments and publishing books and articles that provide honest and straightforward information about things like how to train for specific goals, how to recover after exercise or injury, and how specific foods and nutrients affect your health. Other people, including the higher quality coaches, trainers, and nutritionists take this information along with practical experience and pass their knowledge along to others. All of these people are working to provide valuable information and move the health and fitness industry in a positive direction.
The big problem is that it can be very difficult to separate the honest people providing quality information from the people creating and publicizing misleading or untruthful information. One issue is that people who provide educational information and people who are trying to sell products both use science to support what they say. People in health and fitness often use scientific data or refer to scientific studies to make others believe their claims are factual. Unfortunately, it is easy to manipulate data from a scientific study and use it to provide evidence to support things that were never actually supported by the original study. Also, to make matters worse, people who use scientific studies to reinforce their health and fitness beliefs or promote their products, often do not really even understand the scientific research or the methodology behind it.
For instance, years ago I was invited to attend a seminar by a so-called health and fitness expert. He never presented at any of the professional conferences I attended and I had never even heard of him, but apparently people pay him to fly all over the country to give his presentation. Anyway, he made references to research studies throughout his presentation to give credibility to what he was saying, but it was obvious that he had no real understanding of the studies or even how research is conducted. He tried using data to support things that had nothing to do with the study and also tried to create cause and effect relationships that were not even remotely supported by the data. Basically he made a complete mockery of the research, but since he was perceived to be an expert and the audience was mainly people without prior health and fitness knowledge, they had no reason to question what he said.
This is just one of many examples of unqualified people dispensing information from studies, but that presentation really stuck with me over the years. At that time, it was still early in my career and I could not believe that someone who had such a poor understanding of what he was presenting could be considered a health and fitness expert. Added to his poor understanding of scientific research, he also made factually incorrect statements about how different types of exercise affect the body. I still do not know if he simply did not have his facts straight or if he intentionally made untruthful statements, because he was promoting his specific exercise program and was doing everything he could to convince the audience that his program was better than other exercise programs. In any case it was obvious that he was providing inaccurate information, but he was still a successful presenter who was considered an expert in the field (at least by some people), just because he was a charismatic speaker and some of what he said could inspire people to improve their exercise and nutrition habits. It’s just a shame that his presentations did not actually contain good information.
I know I may have gone a little off track, but I think this is a great example of what is wrong with health and fitness today. Simply put, there is way too much emphasis on style (marketing and presentation) and not enough substance (quality information). There is even a growing sentiment among some members of the industry that people do not want to learn about health and fitness and they only want to be told what to do. I am sure this is true for some people, but it has been my experience that people are eager to learn about health and fitness, as long as the information makes sense and is relevant to their life.
As stated previously, even if you are looking to learn about health and fitness it can be difficult with all the less than helpful information available today. Fortunately, you do not need to have a thorough understand of research methodology or a degree in exercise physiology to determine if information is good or useful. However, there are some things that will help you distinguish the good sources of health and fitness information from the ones that are essentially glorified marketing campaigns.
First, you should not assume that just because someone is considered an expert, he/she will be a good source of information. Some experts and people who want to sound like experts will quote scientific studies or use technical or advanced terminology to just to sound more impressive or make you believe they know what they are talking about. Even if their information is 100% accurate, if you cannot clearly understand it, then it is not really useful to you. Just as with workout routines or nutritional programs, information that is beneficial to one person may be confusing or useless to someone else. The most important thing to ask yourself when learning about health and fitness is whether the information truly makes sense to you and is relevant to your particular goals, needs, and lifestyle.
Another thing to consider is that many publications, presentations, and advertisements are designed to appeal to your emotional desires and manipulate how you feel about a topic, product, or service, instead of actually educating you. In these situations, things that sound really good when you first see or hear them often provide little substance when you go back and take a closer look at them. Good health and fitness information should be educational and make sense whether you are seeing it for the first time or the fifth.
The health and fitness industry is always going to produce some amount of manipulative, misleading, or untruthful information and it can come from anyone, regardless of their level of knowledge or status within the industry. In the end it is really up to you to determine what kind of information you want and expect from members of the health and fitness community. My hope is that people will become fed up with all the great sounding marketing claims and slick presentations and start demanding more quality educational information. Then the health and fitness industry can really move in a more positive direction and be in a position to truly help people live healthier and happier lives.