Childhood obesity affects about 13.7 million children in the US between the ages of 2-19, or roughly 18.5%, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). While the numbers globally are not as high, they are rapidly and disturbingly increasing. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 4% of the world’s children were obese in 1975, compared to over 18% in 2016.
These numbers don’t sit well with the WHO, which says, “These findings confirm the need for effective interventions starting as early as infancy to reverse anticipated trends.” Neither do these numbers sit well with Manish Vakil, founder and CEO of Tumbles kids’ gyms, which welcomes children of all ages, including toddlers.
Vakil says that the mission of Tumbles “is both simple and ambitious — shaping the minds and bodies of the future.” And he has a personal stake. As the father of twin boys, he knows lifelong habits begin in childhood and he’s vested in keeping his family healthy. Both high blood pressure and diabetes run in his family, and both diseases can be managed by diet and exercise.
Tumbles was founded to combat childhood obesity with the strategy of “get fit for the fun of it.” The facilities include climbing walls, crawl tunnels, gymnastic trampolines, springboards, balance beams, trapezes, zip lines, and more. Children are so absorbed in their play that they don’t realize they’re getting exercise, and the “minds” part of the mission — the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) classes — are just as engaging with curricula that include among other subjects robotics, physics, geology, painting, and archeology. STEAM experiments are conducted (and hypotheses proven) in the gym via bodily-kinesthetic / full-body learning.
Vakil is so passionate about his mission of combating childhood obesity that he is taking that mission abroad. Tumbles will be the first U.S. children’s fitness facility in the entire country of Qatar, where an 8,500 square-foot gym is opening this summer in the capital city of Doha. Additionally, Tumbles just signed an agreement in Ghana, which, like Qatar, has been experiencing high rates of childhood obesity. Both countries consider this trend to be a major public health problem, which dovetails with Tumbles’ mission.
“We want to be part of the solution in the region, saying these areas should not be neglected,” says Vakil. “It’s about building a network with people with a vested interest. If you help them make money with the business model, then they’ll be willing to help you on the other side as well.”
Vakil also has future plans of creating a nonprofit organization from the profits of Tumbles to help families in need who don’t have the means or resources to enroll their children in a fitness center. “The idea is to give physical education an ability to utilize the profitable side of the business,” he says.
The goal also is for the nonprofit to have a global reach. “We are not going to discriminate against anywhere based on where they live or how much money they make. Health and wellness should not be dictated by your wallet. It should be a right, not a luxury.”