We are in trouble. The health of our country is being compromised due to a lifestyle of overeating and sedentary habits. Never before in our history has the health of so many individuals been put at risk due to the lethal combination of an inactive lifestyle and poor nutrition. It is now apparent that for the first time in U.S. history, our children will lead a shorter, lower quality of life than their parents. The reason? We now live in what health practitioners call an [obesity epidemic.] About two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, costing billions of dollars for related health care treatment.
One group that has been ignored in the fight against overweight and obesity are mental health professionals (MHPs). The MHP is in a very powerful position to promote a healthier lifestyle among their clients. The level of trust and emotional bonding between MHP and client forms a rare opportunity for influencing the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors of persons—clients—who are highly receptive to making positive, constructive, and significant changes in their life. Forming new habits from leading a sedentary lifestyle to becoming more physically active, including regular exercise, requires strong commitment and additional time and energy. Clients perceive their MHP, not unlike their physician, with extraordinary credibility in suggesting lifestyle changes. What have been missing, however, are the knowledge, skills, and willingness of MHPs to play a much larger role in suggesting exercise programs for clients, and the strategies needed to prescribe exercise routines and programs. MHPs often suggest to clients to initiate contact with specialists in beginning an exercise program fully expecting the fitness club industry to meet client needs by providing an informed, high-quality program. Sadly, neither of these expectations—clients contacting fitness clubs