Trends & Features

A new way for women’s health and fitness

Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign was very successful in raising awareness and gave some useful insights into why women between 16 and 40 don’t exercise, for example, fear of judgement, however, the campaign could only go so far into making things happen. The problems remain: women’s obesity rates continue to stay at an epidemic level in the UK, and in the category of morbidly obese, the percentage of women is higher than men. Sport England’s annual survey has showed that three quarters of women say they want to be active but half between the ages of 29 and 60 had done no activity in the previous 28 days. The Active Lives Survey (17/18) shows there also remains a gender gap, with 60 per cent of women, compared to 65 per cent of men being active for 150 minutes a week. And it seems fat is more than a feminist issue, when it comes to activity levels it’s a class thing too, with 33 per cent of those in lower socio-economic, both men and women, groups most likely to be inactive.

There are still gaps to be filled and innovative brands and marketeers are looking at ways to make real changes, mainly directed at women, as they have traditionally been on the receiving end of the lose weight to be happy messaging. More brands are recognising that it’s time to start addressing the cause of inactivity, not just the symptom. With the help of This Girl Can’s insight and a thriving community of women hungry for change they are taking on traditional ideas of what makes a person healthier and happier.

I’ve created an online community for endurance women (https:// All the women involved do exercise, are interested in good nutrition and are aware that being fit and healthy is something they want for life. The purpose of my community, and many others like it is to add to women’s lives, in this case, endurance sport, not talk about deprivation, cutting calories, ditching bad habits. The trend for women taking on adventures, doing sport, participating in something that doesn’t focus on dress size is very real. In running alone, the balance has shifted so that now in the US, the National Running Survey 2017 reports more women are recreational runners than men.

The Diet Industry Backlash

The backlash has been widely reported. Writing in The Guardian, Ruby Tandoh a columnist and former contestant in the 2013 series of The Great British Bake Off said: ‘There are many toxic layers to the wellness phenomenon. It is no coincidence that the faces of wellness are unfailingly young and thin, overwhelmingly white and all the talk of purity against that backdrop of privilege leaves a rather unsavoury taste in the mouth. And it’s no news that diets don’t work, a review of studies from 2007 found that one third to two thirds of dieters regain more weight than they lost on their diets. In addition our pre-occupation with weight is misguided. You can be healthy and fat and numerous studies have found that a focus on health, not dieting or body size has better outcomes in the longer term.

Quick fixes don’t work. The obsession is with how we look, not how we feel and the only way to change that is to experience something great. This is where sport can make a difference, get women back to netball, encourage all to run, and race, and rasie money for charity. It’s this that will make you feel good and there’s an incentive to keep going and leave the vicious wellness industry stop-start cycle.

New Attitudes to Health and Happiness

Taking on the industry is a big ask. The Global Wellness Institute research revealed the wellness market is growing at historic rate: nearly twice as fast as global economy and in 2017 was worth an estimated $4.2 trillion. But there are greenshoots for those advocating it changes its focus. In December Sport England supported the hugely successful volunteer led parkrun with a £3 million investment aimed at helping more women and people from lower socio-economic groups to get active. And, increasingly brands and businesses are taking action and working at driving change through wellness and sport for women. Nike, Adidas and Under Armour have all recognised the importance of championing women in sport. An article in the Drum highlighted how each of these brands have invested in women. Nike stated that we will make their women’s sportswear arm an $11bn business by 2020; Under Armour’s ‘I will I want’ campaign resulted in 28 per cent increase in women’s sales; and Adidas’s ran the #MyGirls’ campaign, encouraging girls and women to come together through sport and fitness.

Experience and Accessibility

One of the key benefits of the digital revolution is accessibility. And many online communities have recognised that their platform can be a focus for the offline community offering meet-ups and pop-up classes. Customer experience is a focal point for innovative brands in sport, for example, sporting equipment brand and manufacturer of premium exercise bikes, Peloton who stream classes into people’s homes so the exerciser can virtually join an expert-directed class without actually being there. Peloton also sells apparel and accessories from its national network of showrooms to take the Peloton lifestyle further.

Challenge it – it’s the experience that counts

It seems the time is right for challenger brands to make their mark (a term coined in Adam Morgan’s book Eating the Big Fish). These are brands that will disrupt traditional ways of doing things, such as Deliveroo who transformed the way we enjoy eating for pleasure and resulted in the decline of eating out in restaurants. Communities such as Endurance Women aim to show women that changing the way you view ‘exercise’ will not just change your body shape (that’s a by-product) but change the way you feel about life, at home, and at work. It’s the experience that counts, the here and now, and not some promise of a better life in the distant future.

Six Takeaways for Retailers


Go Grassroots

– There are lots of local groups and trainers, and online influencers, who are challenging perceptions and being inclusive. People drive change – and grow business, become a people’s champion. Grassroots recommendation matters and according to Neilson 83 per cent of consumers trust recommendations from their peers over advertising.


Availability of the right size

– Are you only marketing to athletes?

Could you change sizes for netball/ tennis/running so that more people by your product? Remember the average size for women is size 16 (


Authentic Adverts

– The infamous bikini diet poster on London underground was a fail. But now sports brands are following This Girl Can’s lead and using ordinary sized women and with ordinary lives, or real athletes instead of models.


Think beyond the physical

– if you’re promoting sport, promote the benefits socially and for a happy state of mind, the experience and the benefits for all. Use real people and show them the benefits of taking part.


Age matters

– remember the power of the grey pound. One source suggests health spending is forecast to accelerate by 6.4 per cent per year between 2013 and 2018, with the prevalence of age-related diseases such as dementia, cardiovascular disease and diabetes all increasing.


Act with purpose

– Brands such as Mizuno actively supporting community-inspired sports brands as part of their own mission of ‘contributing to society through the advancement of sporting goods and the promotion of sports’ by providing product for free, such as T-shirts. Does your mission statement reflect your actions?

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