Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Getting The Kids Off The Couch And On The Move

"A gym membership for $500 a year hardly sounds exorbitant if you are going to use it. If you go twice a week and spend 90 minutes each time, that's less than $5 each visit. Who would balk at that? That's the plan behind Bulldog Interactive Fitness, a state-of-the-art fitness franchise with a twist: It is aimed at kids. Strangely enough, there is no better time to talk about getting your child in shape and away from video games and television than tax season. The reason is the federal government is now into the second tax year in which it has provided a children's fitness tax credit. It's basically free money if you register your kids in most types of physical activity. The government allows for a $500 credit for any child under the age of 16.The downside is that as a tax credit it only amounts to about $75, but that's still better than nothing. Lou Martinez, the owner of a Bulldog franchise in eastern Toronto, promotes the tax credit to any parent who walks into his club. But the $75 incentive isn't pushing people through the door. ‘When they announced it, they said there would be a $500 tax credit. I thought, that's incredible,’ says Mr. Martinez, who gave up his job as a corporate trainer to open up his fitness facility two-and-a-half years ago. His facility (full disclosure: my video-game crazed son has an interim membership) is a one-of-a-kind. The "gym" is mostly made up of video games, but to use the games, you have to exercise. If you want to play a game, you need pedal power to keep it going or you'll have to employ the strength in your arms to move your player. "The credit is good for getting parents some money, but it's not going to make kids more active which was the intention," says Mr. Martinez. It may seem absurd that the government needs to subsidize children's fitness, but the reality is children are not getting the activity they need. Perhaps I'm getting old, but I seem to remember gym being a part of the school schedule, and playing soccer during recess was standard procedure. ‘Now they have indoor recess if it's raining or too windy,’ said Mr. Martinez. ‘Or, if there is too much snow, recess is cancelled. ‘Is it possible for there to be too much snow if you are a child? They used to lock the doors at recess time when I was a kid. You couldn't get back in unless you had a medical note. Mike Fahrmann, a partner with KPMG Enterprise, said the tax credit is so small he can't imagine the government being too strict on who claims the money. ‘Will it motivate anybody? The math does not work. If you spend $5,000 on your kids hockey, what will this mean?’ he adds. About the only other way to use the tax system toward your child's health might be the child-care expense deduction. claim up to $7,000 per child and that deduction comes off your taxable income. The problem is that deduction is aimed at child-care facilities -- not sports activities. Child care has to be the key component before you can claim the deduction. ‘Maybe you could send your kid to a daycare that has gymnastics,’ jokes Mr. Fahrmann. Where do I sign up?’"


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