World-leading fitness expert Nick Mitchell, who is the Founder and CEO of Ultimate Performance, shares his thoughts on childhood obesity…
“I instinctively don’t like ‘big government’.
I don’t like government overreach. I don’t want the government interfering in my life. I want to take responsibility for my life.
But if you look at it from a public health policy perspective, something is not working, so something has to change.
To my mind, if a child is identified as obese, someone somewhere should be sticking their nose in.
I know people wouldn’t like that. It’s never going to happen.
But there are societies where you don’t see obese people, and you have to ask, ‘why?’
I’ve just returned from a week in Singapore. You do not see the same level of obesity as you see in the UK or US.
What’s the difference? It’s a culture of not overeating.
It’s a culture where all the boys have to do two years of national service when they’re 18.
Then I think up to the age of 40, they have to do two weeks of national service. Just the men, not the women, by the way, which is also wrong.
So, they take pride more probably in being physical. If they’re going and doing national service, they also need to be physical because they’re going out and doing manoeuvers.
They’re digging holes and carrying sandbags and all that kind of stuff. It’s going to be a disaster for them if they’re obese.
How does that set the tone then? As an 18-year-old, if you are overweight or a little bit unhealthy, then you go through this two-year period where you have to be disciplined, I assume it kicks you into shape.
I assume that large parts of your food intake are controlled. Again, this is a very rigid, controlled society.
I’m not saying that this is the paradigm or the model that we should follow. But, you can look at these societies that don’t have this problem, and you have to ask why don’t they have that problem, and we do?
Are they so special? Are they so smart? No! They are more rigid. It’s a more paternalistic culture and society. It’s definitely a society that is more deferential to authority.
They’re also not frightened to say things that might trigger people.
The issue with obesity is that we can’t talk about it because it’s ‘triggering’.
Again, it speaks of the larger movement. This thing that you have here in the UK: ‘healthy at every size’. No, if you’re morbidly obese, it’s impossible for you to be healthy at every size.
I know for a fact that the UK government recognises there’s a problem. They don’t know how to fix the problem, but they recognise that there’s a problem.
When it’s dealing with children, how would you do it?
It starts with the schools – that’s the only way.
Look at PE and physical education – is it fit for purpose now?
No. It doesn’t work. It’s a one-size-fits-all approach. But it’s about money and resources.
Nick training his 13-year-old son.
Do I think we should put more money into education – including physical education – on a macro level in the UK? Yes.
I would revamp physical education. I would teach people what it means to move. You would want to teach children the joy of properly moving their bodies.
We know it. We’re in the fitness industry, and we love to exercise.
We understand the endorphin high of exercise, and we understand the power that this brings to us in all facets of our life.
That’s what we should be teaching children.
It doesn’t really matter what it is. It could be doing Pilates. It could be doing yoga. It could be killing yourself in the gym, or it could be running a marathon.
And then there’s children and sport.
I think all children should go and do some sport or should go and do some activity that’s competitive. This isn’t even about physical activity.
They should go and do something that’s competitive.
So it could be a spelling bee or a maths contest. It doesn’t have to be, ‘I’m going to run’ or ‘I’m going to play rugby’.
It just needs to be something – anything – competitive. Children should learn to lose. Everyone should learn to lose.
If you are 18, 21, or 25, you’re coming out of education, and you have never been taught to lose, you are screwed when the real world hits you.”
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