World-leading fitness expert Nick Mitchell, who is the Founder and CEO of Ultimate Performance, shares his thoughts on childhood obesity…
“We should be telling the truth to parents and children in every aspect of a child’s development.
If you mollycoddle an obese child and say, ‘It’s okay to be obese. It’s okay – you’re healthy at any size’, when 30 hits or 40 hits, or they want to have a child and they’re infertile, who’ve you helped? What you’ve done? Nothing. You’ve taken the coward’s way out.
You need to take the road less travelled – the harder road.
But no, we always take the easy road. We don’t tell them the truth.
It’s like parenting. Good parenting is a pain in the ass, because you’ve got to make the decisions that you don’t want to make.
Technology and political correctness together have made it easier for us to abdicate responsibility, and abdicate parental responsibility, specifically, which is clearly having a detrimental effect.
It’s having a detrimental effect on resilience and physical health. And again, you can’t divorce, physical health and mental health, can you? The two go hand in hand.
A ticking timebomb we need to diffuse…
If we don’t address this, fast forward 20 or 30 years, and we will have 50% or 60% obesity, a massive overreliance on pharmaceutical drugs, and all these problems.
Because we don’t want to offend people, we are in danger of accepting that there is nothing wrong with obesity.
There is a movement that has a voice that talks about ‘fat acceptance’.
If you are going to accept someone being fat, let’s have a smoking acceptance.
Netflix puts a trigger warning on its TV shows when people smoke. You might have seen that. ‘Warning: graphic content. Violence and smoking.’
So, if smoking is triggering, then what happens when I see a child that’s obese? Because that child is ill. We’re showing an ill child. But you can’t say that.
We call it ‘being woke’. We call it ‘snowflakes’, but I think these are overused terms. It’s cowardice, plain and simple.
The hardest problem to fix…
No one wants to have a hard conversation.
You don’t want to have a conversation with a 14-year-old boy or girl and go: ‘You’re morbidly obese. You need to fix it.’ Because probably no one’s ever told them that.
And, if people have told them that it’s bloody complicated to fix. Obesity is not easy to fix because it is habits. They’re addicted to having a full stomach. They’re addicted to overeating. Fixing an addiction is very, very, very hard.
Obesity, you could argue, is an eating disorder. What do we do with eating disorders?
Eating disorders are normally considered to be things like anorexia and bulimia. We treat them with sympathy, with hope, with understanding. No one shames someone for this.
But we don’t ever, ever say it’s alright. But with obesity – ‘Oh no, no, no. It’s okay.’
It’s not okay. You’re eating yourself to death.
Whether you’re 12 or you’re 62, you’re eating yourself to death. How dare we say it’s okay.
It’s coward and laziness. It’s nothing more. But also, I have to caveat this because it is complicated as hell.
Acting now is the only way…
I think it would be much easier to fix childhood obesity than adult obesity because other people control the purse strings.
With an adult who has their job and has their money, how do you stop them going to Tesco at lunchtime and getting a family-size bag of crisps?
But with a child, you control the purse strings, so there are fewer excuses.
Ultimately, no one wants to be obese. No child wants to be obese. No one is happy about being obese.
No one is happy when you’re playing sport, and the kids are kicking the football around, and you are stood in goal because you can’t run around. They’re not happy.
The 14-year-old or 15-year-old who is starting to think about boys or girls. No one picks them. No one looks at them. People snigger under their breath. No one is happy. They want to do something about it.
But this is labour-intensive work. How do you have that conversation?
Each conversation needs to be started from a slightly different vantage point.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.
But what we should be doing as a society is making it unacceptable.
Would it be acceptable to see a 12-year-old smoking a cigarette outside school? The parent who allowed that would be a pariah.
The same principle needs to be applied, in a certain way, and with a different touch, to obesity.
If a child is identified as having anorexia or bulimia, the school will get involved. Why would they not get involved then if a child is obese? What’s the difference?
One is perhaps a faster road to ruin. You’re starving yourself. Vomiting up your food.
But, obesity is still an inevitable road to ruin, and it’s an inevitable road to an unfulfilled life.
You are stripping that child of so many opportunities because of what obesity will do to their cognitive function, their physical function, and their hormonal function.
No one is saying that addressing childhood obesity is an easy fix. If you have an obese child, I’m willing to bet the odds are that you are obese yourself.
It’s incredibly important for the parents of obese children to have a proper grasp on their own obesity, and their own health. Because ‘do as I say’ is not nearly as effective as ‘do as I do’.
Therefore, you’ve got to fix yourself before you can fix your child. You are the lead for your child. How can there not be a greater motivation to fix yourself than for your children?”
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