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Letter From NBJ: Clearing The Smoke

It’s pretty easy to take shots at the sports nutrition and weight loss categories. That’s because too many companies make it too easy, sometimes blatantly ignoring laws that are the safeguards to support both the health of the public and, in the end, the health of the industry.

It’s not a matter of low-hanging fruit that has federal regulators eyeing the products, ingredients and claims so closely. There are actual risks involved. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and there’s an awful lot of smoke wafting up from an awful lot of fires.

But behind all that smoke are genuine needs and urgent issues.

Obesity is costing the country billions. The Journal of Health Economics put the share of all health care costs devoted to obesity-related disease at 21 percent. It’s both intuitive and accurate to say a lot of that obesity and much of that 21 percent could be avoided or mitigated by exercise, and the benefits, of course, go far beyond waistlines and weigh-ins.

In all of this, nobody is oblivious to the obvious. Some argue that people can be both fat and healthy, but nobody outside of the comedy circuit speaks out against exercise. Americans by the many millions ignore all advice on healthy weight and exercise, but where the nutrition industry could step in, and make it perhaps not easier but at least more effective, comfortable and sustainable, the smokiest of those fires keeps the public wary. Most people who have channel-surfed past an infomercial for a weight loss product are going to be roll-their-eyes skeptical of fat-burning ingredients. Sensible people who read about spiked sports supplements are going to be more than wary.

And so genuine needs are not met and urgent issues are not addressed. More responsible companies are trying to do it right with the right ingredients backed by the right science, but getting seen through that smoky haze isn’t easy.

What people need are products that don’t promise to make exercise or weight loss effortless or easy. Most people aren’t even looking to “optimize” performance. Instead they need products that support them in optimum wellness while they pursue those goals.

In the end, that should be what sports nutrition is really about. Call it wellness or vitality. Call it thriving. Exercise and a healthy weight ring in key with all of those words.

Maybe that’s the pitch that gets more people, each of them potential long-term customers, off the couch and onto their bikes or onto a walking path—maybe even the gym. Make health the goal and maybe you put out more of the fires, maybe the smoke clears a bit.

Maybe it’s not so easy to take shots at sports nutrition and weight loss supplements when the focus is on health.

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