The fitness industry is looking for tax credits to cover the cost of gym memberships

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 huge component of our health care, and until we realize that and see that and get policy in place, we’re just talking empty,” said Sarah Hodson, board president and CEO of the Live Well Exercise Clinic.

Studies include one of the last weeks of World Health Organization which found that large numbers of people around the world will develop heart disease, obesity, diabetes or other non-communicable diseases between 2020 and 2030 due to a lack of physical activity – at a cost of US$27 billion per year – if governments do not act to promote more physical activity.

Earlier this year, the International Association of Health Rackets and Sports Clubs concluded that inaction is costing Canada’s health care system 3.9 billion US dollarsthe majority of which are borne by the public health sector.

And the Fitness Council, in partnership with the University of Sheffield, found that more than 2.2 million cases of health problems were prevented in 2019 as a result of sport and physical activity.

“This is amazing information. However, with this data, it calls for a policy, doesn’t it?” Hodson said.

Tax incentives

Hodson is proposing that the federal government allow Canadians to claim their gym membership fees as a medical expense on their personal income tax returns, and that provincial governments offer a fitness tax credit for adults.

“So we’re making sure we’re attacking this both at the provincial and local level and at the national level,” Hodson said.

Newfoundland and Labrador now offers a refundable fitness tax credit of up to $2,000 per household. It was first announced in Budget 2021. 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 after the pandemic.

When people look at finances every month, it’s either paying bills and food or going to the gym.… So if we’re able to give them something that allows them to keep fit… as a society we all win.– Matt Kellett, fitness club owner

Matt Kellett owns three Orangetheory fitness clubs in Calgary. He says the industry has been destroyed with all the stops.

And now, he says, the cost of living is rising rapidly.

“When people look at their finances every month, it’s either paying bills and food or going to the gym. They will probably remove the gym, right? So if we can give them something that allows them to keep fitness in, then you know, I think as a society we all win,” Kellett said.

Hodson says the council works with the federal government, ie. with both the Prime Minister’s Office and the Treasury Secretary’s team to get approval to add a fitness center membership to line 33099, which is a medical expense category, on federal tax returns.

“As a country that funds research to prove that exercise is medicine, and then funds education to teach that exercise is medicine, but doesn’t have the policy to back it up — we have a huge gap here,” Hodson said.

CBC News reached out to the Alberta government but did not hear back in time for publication.

The federal government says families who are eligible for the Canada Child Benefit can use it to cover the costs of children in sport. (matimix/Shutterstock)

A spokesman for the federal finance department said there were already initiatives in place to cover the costs of sporting activities.

The spokesperson provided a statement noting that the Canada Child Benefit for Families can be used to cover the costs of children in sport

It says eligible families can now receive up to $5,903 per child aged six to 17 and up to $6,997 per child under six for the July 2022 to June 2023 benefit period.

Also, the statement said, the 2021 federal budget provided $80 million over two years to Canadian Heritage to remove barriers to participation in sports programs and other efforts to make local organized sports more accessible.

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