Jill Kinney: Health clubs can play an even larger role in wellness

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Jill Kinney, the founder and of Club One, Inc. and the managing director of Clubsource, began working in corporate wellness in 1979, for a Marin County cardiologist who she said decided to take a proactive approach to health, particularly executives. She was chief operating officer of Western Athletic Clubs for eight years before  she started Club One.

Since then, she's developed over 100 clubs, including many corporate fitness centers. Ms. Kinney also said she is in the process of launching a new business, called Itrim, that brings weight loss and fitness together in a club-like environment. The company's fist centers will debut in the Bay Area beginning in the first quarter of next year. Part of the hope is to "dramatically impact obesity in the U.S." with the new model, said Ms. Kinney, who will be a speaker at the North Bay Business Journal's Health Care Conference.

She recently shared some of her thoughts on wellness and how it applies to health care with the Business Journal.

Q. When most people think of health care, they think hospitals, doctors, nurses, etc. How and where does a business like Club One fit in the overall landscape?  

A. Corporations have known for a long time that it costs less to keep an employee healthy than to care for them after they are sick.  Our Club One sites initially targeted corporate markets and we quickly became partners with the companies in the neighborhood offering health screening and personalized exercise programs for high risk employees.  Our early customers included Charles Schwab, Wells Fargo Bank and other San Francisco companies.  In 1994, Autodesk asked us to help them design and operate an employee fitness center on their San Rafael campus and we expanded our role to include facility management. Since then, we have grown our corporate wellness division to over 80 corporate wellness centers serving companies like The Gap, Motorola, Applied Materials, Chevron, and many others.  Today, Club One is one of the leading providers of corporate wellness programs in the U.S.

Q. A place like Club One certainly promotes a healthy lifestyle with exercise. Do you foresee health clubs such as Club One playing a role in the preventive care often mentioned by health care experts?

A. The health club industry is actively involved in the health care reform movement in the U.S.  Many clubs provide fitness assessments, personalized programs, lifestyle and risk management education and some provide physical therapy and post rehab care. A number of club companies have partnered with medical groups and hospitals to provide fitness centers and medical/fitness programs. Some hospitals have added fitness clubs to their hospital campus to provide a new level of care to their patients and the community they serve.  Health clubs have generally catered to people who are well and medical groups have generally catered to people who are sick, but the roles are blurring.

Q. Can such health clubs help curb health care costs?

A. Yes.  At the heart of most illness is lack of exercise and obesity.  Health clubs provide a safe and effective place for people to get regular exercise.  If Americans exercised regularly,  we'd see a dramatic decline in health care costs.

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