So what’s to be made of this? On the surface, it can be said that 24 Hour Fitness may be fit but it’s also smug, and the protesters were not only fat but also rude. But this is only the surface of a deep reality that the fitness services industry as a whole has not dealt with successfully. Our marketing keeps reaching out to the small number of already-reached, and frightening the larger number of folks we need to reach.

Most clubs are a lot better prepared to deal with fitness than with fatness. Dealing with clients first about their fatness is like leading them through a minefield of self-loathing, past experiences of failure, defensiveness and resentment of you for calling their attention to it — any of which mines can destroy your business relationship. But fitness is quick to improve, and reduced fatness may follow.

Picking on fat upsets people as picking on fitness upsets some of us. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Scott Ostler may have been trying to even the score when he quipped: “Maybe 24 Hour Fitness is right; the aliens will eat the fat ones first. But when the creatures land and I run for my life, I hope to hell I’m not on a treadmill.”

We’re better off not giving clients a reason to get even.

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