The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is urging US Congress to pass a new law which would encourage healthier lifestyles through physical activity.
ACE says that if the COVID-19 Youth Sports and Healthy Working Families Relief Act – which incorporates the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act – would be passed as part of the next economic stimulus package, it would have a "triple effect" that could help transform US public health.
In a statement, ACE said that one of these effects would be to give fitness and sports businesses – which have been battered by the pandemic-induced lockdowns – a crucial shot in the arm.
"PHIT would not only improve health in America, but reduce the strain on our overall healthcare system and provide a consumer-driven economic stimulus to help active lifestyle industries harmed by COVID-19," ACE said in a statement.
PHIT has been designed to incentivise health by providing discounts (ranging from 10 to 37 per cent) on physical activity expenditures through the use of Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) and Health Savings Accounts (HSA) – the tax-advantaged medical savings accounts available to taxpayers in the United States.
The discounts would apply to expenses directly related to active lifestyles – from health club memberships, personal training services, at-home fitness programmes and sports and fitness equipment to outdoor recreation fees and youth sports costs.
Crucially, it would mark a sea-change for the way FSAs and HSAs are used.
Currently, HSA/FSA account holders can pay for treatment of disease with their pre-tax money, but not for prevention via physical activity.
ACE has joined around 4,000 other industry stakeholders calling for the legislative change to be passed.
Earlier this month the stakeholders wrote an open letter – under the name PHIT Coalition – addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and both the Republican (Kevin McCarthy) and Democrat (Chuck Schumer) leaders.
In the letter, they urged for PHIT to be passed, describing it as a "form of low-cost preventative health care".
"Since the pandemic, the fitness industry was the first to shutter its doors and continues to be repeatedly forced to close when additional coronavirus surges spike," the letter reads.
"Youth sports, health clubs, fitness studios and much of outdoor recreation were early casualties of the economic shutdown and stay-at-home orders.
"Under the circumstances, many of these businesses and organisations are struggling to survive in an ever-changing COVID landscape.
"While all are working to reengineer service lines the economic aftershocks will be daunting for years to come.
"Ironically, the active population has far better prognoses and are at lower risk of experiencing the more severe symptoms of COVID-19 than the inactive population.
"With the additional strain COVID-19 has placed on our healthcare system, it is critical to promote health and physical activity; and without the active lifestyle industry, the American population will suffer.
"PHIT would incentivise health by providing a 12 to 35 per cent discount on physical activity expenditures through use of pre-tax medical accounts.
"Youth sports costs, health club dues, at-home fitness programs, outdoor recreation fees, sports and fitness equipment, and other expenses directly related to active lifestyles would be eligible for payment using an HSA or FSA.
"Currently, HSA/FSA account holders can pay for treatment of disease with their pre-tax money, but not for prevention via physical activity.
"The PHIT Act helps harness the energy and benefits that sports and active lifestyles bring to all of America’s communities."
• To read the full letter which outlines the benefits of PHIT, signed by the 4,000 fitness and sports organisations, click here.