Fitness industry seeks tax credits to cover cost of gym memberships
National advocacy group says studies show inactivity costs health-care system billions
The Fitness Industry Council of Canada says a number of recent studies highlighting the cost of physical inactivity on the health-care system support its push for provincial and federal tax credits that would help offset the cost of gym memberships.
"Physical activity is a massive component of our health care, and until we recognize that and see that and put the policy in place, we are just speaking empty words," said Sara Hodson, president of the council and CEO at Live Well Exercise clinic.
The studies include one last week by the World Health Organization that found a large number of people worldwide would develop heart disease, obesity, diabetes or other noncommunicable diseases between 2020 and 2030 due to physical inactivity — a cost of $27 billion US annually — if governments don't take action to encourage more physical activity.
Earlier this year, the International Health Racquet and Sportsclub Association concluded that inactivity costs the Canadian health-care system $3.9 billion US, the majority of which is borne by the public health sector.
And the fitness council, in partnership with Sheffield University, found that more than 2.2 million cases of health conditions were prevented in 2019 as a result of sport and physical activity.
"That's incredible information. With that data, though, it demands policy, right?" said Hodson.
Hodson proposes the federal government allow Canadians to claim their gym membership fees as a medical expense on their personal income tax returns, and the provincial governments offer an adult fitness tax credit.
"So we're making sure that we're attacking this at both a provincial and local level as well as a national level," said Hodson.
Newfoundland and Labrador already offers a refundable fitness tax credit worth up to $2,000 per household. It was first announced in the 2021 budget. The province says it aims to be the healthiest province in the country by 2031.
Hodson says it's about getting more people active and helping clubs stay afloat post-pandemic.
When people are looking at finances monthly, it's either pay bills and food or go to the gym.… So if we're able to give them something that allows them to keep the gym in … as a society we all win.- Matt Kellet, fitness club owner
Matt Kellett owns three Orangetheory Fitness clubs in Calgary. He says the industry was decimated with all the shutdowns.
And now, he says, the cost of living is rapidly rising.
"When people are looking at finances monthly, it's either pay bills and food or go to the gym. they're going to eliminate the gym probably, right? So if we're able to give them something that allows them to keep the gym in, then you know, I think as a society we all win," said Kellett.
Hodson says the council has been working with the federal government, that is, both the Prime Minister's Office and the finance minister's team, to have approval to add fitness facility memberships in Line 33099, which is the medical expense category, of federal tax returns.
"As a country that funds the research to prove that exercise is medicine and then funds the education to teach that exercise is medication, but doesn't have the policy in place to support that — we have a massive gap here," said Hodson.
CBC News reached out to the Alberta government but didn't hear back in time for publication.
A spokesperson for the federal finance department said it already has initiatives in place to cover the cost of sports activities.
The spokesperson provided a statement that noted the Canada Child Benefit for families can be used to cover the costs of children in sports
It says eligible families can now receive up to $5,903 per child aged six through 17, and up to $6,997 per child under the age of six, for the July 2022 to June 2023 benefit year.
As well, the statement said, the 2021 federal budget provided $80 million over two years to Canadian Heritage, to remove barriers to participation in sports programming, and other efforts to make local organized sports more accessible.