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Economy Takes Toll on Nips and Tucks, Gym Memberships

By Laura Petrecca, USA TODAY

Not just the economy is sagging. Cash-strapped folks are cutting back on body-firming services such as gym memberships, diets and cosmetic procedures.

Some 53% of plastic surgeons say business has slowed, according to a recent survey by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery of nearly 700 members.

Cost is only one deterrent; another is fear of time away from work for recovery in this job market, says Alan Gold, ASAPS president.

Cosmetic work at San Diego's Scripps Mercy Surgery Pavilion — top choices are liposuction and breast augmentation — fell 30% in the first quarter vs. a year ago, says executive director Steve Green.

"We are a luxury provider" and people have less discretionary money, says Richard D'Amico, president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Yet, even cheaper "body work" has gone soft:

  • Workouts. Gym memberships, which average $35 per month, fell last year for the first time in more than a decade to 41.5 million from 42.7 million in 2006, says the International Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association. The fitness industry is not immune to "the credit crunch, increasing fuel and food prices, slowing employment and the housing crisis," said IHRSA's 2008 report in June.
  • Diets. Nestlé Nutrition CEO Richard Laube told investors in June that its Jenny Craig diet program is "seeing some of the economic dampening in the U.S." Growth is "not at the 30% to 40% rates that we had seen in the first few months" of the year. The plan's food costs an average of $100 a week.
  • Cosmetic procedures. Cheaper, more temporary help such as BOTOX injections are the growth leaders in cosmetic procedures, a $12.4 billion business in the USA last year. "More and more people are going to non-surgical alternatives and postponing surgery," says Grant Stevens, a plastic surgeon in Marina Del Rey and Beverly Hills, Calif.

A report by Cowen and Co. analyst Eli Kammerman sees demand for breast implant maker Mentor "continuing to be slow for the next two quarters at least." Mentor shares are down 33% this year, closing Tuesday at $26.55.

D'Amico says he thinks most people are only delaying cosmetic surgery plans. "The specialty will weather the current decline in economic growth just as previous declines, such as the stock market correction after the Internet bubble."

One bright spot in the nip-and-tuck business: Thanks to the dollar's drop, New York City plastic surgeon John Sherman is seeing more euro and pound spending patients from abroad.

"As the dollar got weaker, suddenly expensive New York plastic surgeons aren't as expensive anymore."

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