“Who’s Buying This Stuff?” by Julie Merker

We’ve all heard it…The best way to live a long life is to be healthy throughout life. So we eat the colors of the rainbow; we buy a treadmill; we buy a juicer. Somehow, this just isn’t good enough. Americans want need to be on the cutting edge of everything, and that includes the health and fitness craze! Have you seen late night television infomercials lately? They have come a long way from Jack Lalane and Richard Simmons (or are they still hawking goods that people may or may not actually need?). They are full of the latest and greatest instructional videos, exercise equipment, and food supplements. And it doesn’t stop at 3am television spots – we are constantly bombarded with advertisements online, on billboards, even in reality TV of all our fitness choices. The most popular from the media I consume appear to be CrossFit, Mud Runs, and Boot Camps and they are all pushing us to workout harder, faster, and longer.

Health and wellness is a booming industry in the United States and yet we continue to be one of the most obese countries in the world. There is no denying that a significant amount of research goes on in the background of this industry. Surely, market researchers are hard at work identifying the gaps in American consumption of these goods and services. They can tell what “sells” for one population versus another. They know just what “special introductory gift” to throw in to seal the deal. Is this research truly benefiting the community? Is the data representative of this nation of obese citizens? Simply put, probably not – and that’s not supposed to be the point. But….

In the hands of a community researcher, this data set has a mixed-methods study written all over it! How fascinating would it be to conduct a longitudinal study of consumers’ health and wellness based initially upon their purchase of a fitness program they found on an infomercial? The quantitative segment would include the measures of consumer fidelity to the program, the time spent exercising, and the outcome of the exercise as indicated by weight and inches lost. This would all be valuable information, but the community researcher could gain a deeper level of understanding of these consumers through a qualitative interview process. The researcher could focus on the underlying motivations for exercise, why the consumer purchased a membership to CrossFit rather than a Boot Camp program and why she continued or discontinued the program. These reasons may not come to light as clearly through the survey process, and the interview results could inform local initiatives to improve community health and wellness.

And really, wouldn’t it just be fun to know who is buying into the latest and greatest fitness craze?