PHIT Act Aims to Tackle Youth Inactivity

The Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act may be one piece of legislation the divided United States can agree upon. At its core, the bill would give families a financial incentive to put aside money to have their children play sports, exercise and be healthy. The catch: The PHIT Act requires Congress to end years of inactivity to become a law. “The biggest issue we face in our industry and what we believe in our country is physical inactivity,” says Tom Cove, president and CEO of Sports & Fitness Industry Association, one of the PHIT Act’s champions. “The great part is inactivity is addressed by activity.” How dire is the issue? SFIA says 35 million American children are classified as not active to healthy standards. About 12 million of those youth are totally inactive. Cove says a variety of factors, including economics, lack of physical education and youth specializing in one sport, are to blame for the crisis. The PHIT Act would address at least one of those issues. Namely, it would allow families to set aside up to $2,000 tax-free on expenses related to sports, exercise and/or general activity. SFIA cites studies showing two in five Americans would be more physically active with a financial incentive. Cove has actively lobbied Congress about the act for six years. His latest hope is piggybacking it on a larger piece of legislation during the lame-duck session before President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office. If the bill sits idly, Cove and his team are poised once again to push for its reintroduction in 2017. “It’s hard to be against creating a culture of physical activity,” says Cove. Perhaps more importantly, the association also has bipartisan support from more than 100 federal lawmakers. The big hurdle is overcoming years of congressional gridlock—a possibility with one party controlling the legislative and executive branches of government for at least the next two years. With health care costs continuing to rise and the Affordable Care Act potentially facing a repeal, Cove’s most effective argument may be economic. The World Health Organization says an investment of $1 in physical activity reduces future health care costs by $3.20. Cove also notes prescription drugs and diets require more money and are, in general, less effective combating obesity than encouraging athletic activities. “We have a strong sense of what we need to be doing but it’s not happening the way it should,” says Cove. Look for more Connect Sports coverage on the decline in youth participation in athletics in the coming months.