So here I am, with fifteen or so parents in this small room, all of their children are overweight or obese (mainly obese) and most, if not all, of the parents are likewise. I can tell by their belligerent stares and negative body language that they will be a tough crowd. I’m there to put it to them that the reason that their children are overweight is due mainly to the job that they are doing as parents. Their children’s weight won’t reduce just because the wind changes and, as the saying goes: ‘If you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always got!’
I cast an eye around the room and pick out the ones that I know are spoiling for a fight. The mum with the unruly four year old that has not stopped whinging and carrying on since we arrived is a dead cert. I can read their minds: “Look at old lanky, here no doubt to bring me another pious lecture about how to bring up my kids. Probably some health & fitness freak with a cabbage obsession, living in a mews house in Kensington. Well I’ll let him know what being a single mum bringing up three kids on a council estate in Mitcham teaches you, and that is that you get your revenge in first!”
Feebly and with breathtaking insincerity I introduce myself; I know now for sure they can see straight through it. These guys are street wise, they are first class honours graduates of the University of Hard Knocks; I don’t stand a chance! The silence is deafening, it lasts forever; meanwhile, their stares turn to scowls. Just as I contemplate feigning a seizure, the silence is shattered by the crashing of a flinging door. In blusters the obligatory late comer, complete with flailing umbrella and soaking coat. Cursing the traffic, and furious at the inconvenience of being dragged along to another pointless nanny state social project. Her entrance further agitates the by now palpably hostile audience.
As usual it’s all in my head, and of course they are a great bunch of people, mums and dads just like anyone else, trying to make headway against a strong opposing tide. We have a laugh, get acquainted and each of them talks about their experiences and the challenges that they face. We share ideas and exchange snippets on how to outsmart the kids, how to draw upon our knowledge and resolve when the going gets tough, and hopefully how to make a few better choices for ourselves on route.
As always they come up with great solutions to the recurring themes, and realise that they are not alone in their struggle to rear healthy weight children in modern Britain. I too as always learn a few more tips from them for the next programme. Following a really productive 30 minutes, everyone is really motivated and I can feel their renewed enthusiasm for tackling the many challenges that they face.
We move next door to where the fitness team is working with the children. As always I am genuinely moved to see these young children, who despite in some cases their severe obesity, exude the vitality and exuberance that is innate in every child. The children and the staff inspire me; together they remind me why I love this job so much.