We have a crisis in America. Our kids are fat. To combat this epidemic, Congress has decided to make exercise compulsory. They’re prepared to spend billions of other people’s money. It’s a simple plan. They’re going to cut one hour off the end of the school day and students will be bused to their local gym. If no gym exists, one will be built. Students — check that — “athletes” will be assigned a personal trainer. Some trainers will be responsible for 25 kids, others more like 150. It’s called, “Every Student An Athlete,” and the goal is simple: no more fat kids by 2025. I spoke to the plan’s architect, Tara Bullidea, and dug deeper into the details:
MURPH: Hi, Tara. So every kid, starting when they’re five, will be required to work out for one hour after school each day. How will you enforce it?
TARA: This is just like school. Athletes have to attend. It’s mandatory. I mean, I guess their parents could pick them up from school and take them home, but we really don’t want them to. We’ll threaten stuff and, oh… you know what, I just thought of this — we’ll hold the gyms accountable for athletes’ attendance! That ought to do it.
MURPH: So the gym will be punished if too many of their athletes don’t show up to exercise?
TARA: You got it!
MURPH: Okay. What if the athletes come but don’t want to participate? What if they refuse to follow their trainers’ instructions? Or what if they actively interfere with the workouts of other athletes?
TARA: Those athletes will be in big trouble. They’ll have to sit out or even be sent home.
MURPH: But wouldn’t that sort of defeat the whole purpose? They may want to sit out, and if they’re sent home, they’re not getting the exercise they need.
TARA: True. Trainers shouldn’t do that. They should do everything they can to get those students to work out. I guess maybe they should make it more fun. They should, um, build relationships so athletes will want to work out! You know, now that I think about it, if a trainer has some athletes with bad attitudes, it’s really the trainers’ fault, isn’t it? Such poor athlete attitudes should be reflected on the trainers’ year-end ratings.
MURPH: The trainers are going to be rated? How will that work?
TARA: That’s my favorite part. Look, we don’t want any consequences for the athletes. I mean, if they fail to lose weight, they’re only hurting themselves, right? But the trainers? We’re paying the trainers! The taxpayers will expect a decent return on investment. So we will hold the trainers accountable for their athletes’ weight loss.
MURPH: Oh, I see. So will there be bonuses for really good trainers? Some way to reward excellence?
TARA: No, silly. Nothing like that. We can’t afford bonuses. No, what we’re going to do is punish the gyms that don’t get their athletes’ to shed the pounds. If a gym is really bad — like if only a few kids achieve expected yearly weight loss (EYWL, pronounced “I-will”) — we may even close the gym. Or at least fire all the trainers. Also, each trainer will be rated at the end of the year, and we would expect gyms to fire the trainers with the lowest ratings. As for the best trainers, we’ll give them the laziest, most overweight kids.
MURPH: How will you figure out which trainers deserve low ratings?
TARA: We’ll just go in and weigh all the athletes at the start of the year and weigh them again at the end of the year. If they haven’t lost enough weight, that trainer will get a bad rating.
MURPH: How much weight should each kid lose? What’s going to be the cut-off?
TARA: Oh, I don’t know. Let’s just say 10% of their original weight. Actually, on second thought, we’ll change the target every year and not tell the trainers what the new goal is. I know. We’ll come up with a really complicated formula to assess the trainers. That way, if someone starts to question it, we’ll just explain to them that they’re not smart enough to figure it out. In reality, I won’t be smart enough to figure it out either. Hardly anyone will. We’ll just say that some statisticians somewhere said it’s fine and that will be enough.
MURPH: But isn’t it unfair to hold trainers accountable when they only see the athletes for five hours a week? What if the kids go home and their parents undo all the trainers’ hard work? What if they feed their kids horrible food and never exercise themselves? What if they, God forbid, denigrate the whole idea of a healthy lifestyle? Isn’t it possible that some parents, either through ignorance or willful neglect, will sabotage the trainers’ efforts? Should trainers be punished for that?
TARA: Uh, huh. Yep.
MURPH: Okay. How about these trainers? We’re putting a lot on them and trusting them with the future health of the nation. How will you ensure that they’re up to the task?
TARA: You know, I’ve thought a lot about that. We’re going to be rating them, so they have a strong incentive to really study their craft and become excellent at what they do. They’ll be judged on their performance (okay, actually their athletes’ performance, but let’s not split hairs), so they’ll probably try really hard. So, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to require them to train kids certain ways. Now, sometimes those ways will be based on the latest scientific research on wellness. But other times, they’ll just be based on the latest fad, like maybe a popular book that’s out at the time. And to be sure they’re all doing pretty much the same thing, we’re going to make them sit through lots of meetings where we train them in these methods. We really want them to train their athletes the way we think they should train them.
MURPH: But then, shouldn’t it be you who is held accountable? I mean, if the trainers are just following your marching orders and they don’t get results, isn’t that your fault?
TARA: I don’t think so. Perhaps they aren’t training with fidelity. Maybe they aren’t very good at implementing the required methods. Their fault, for sure.
MURPH: Let’s change gears and focus on the kids.
MURPH: Right. What about those athletes who come from families that can’t afford tennis shoes or gym shorts?
TARA: We’ll provide those.
MURPH: So will all gyms get the same equipment? Will they have the same budgets?
TARA: Hahahahaha! No. Taxes will be raised at the local level for equipment, so certain areas will have newer machines than other areas. But every gym will have some equipment. Research tells us that it’s not the equipment that matters, but the trainer. So we won’t accept any excuses from trainers who have to work with older equipment, or even equipment that no longer works. Those trainers will simply have to be more creative.
MURPH: That sounds difficult. It might be hard to get good trainers to work at gyms with broken machines. Will you pay these trainers more?
TARA. No. Less, actually.
TARA: It’s fine! It’s all going to work out fine. We’re going to have no fat kids by 2025. They’re all going to hit their EYWL targets. Every Student An Athlete is going to be an amazing success because I really want it to be!
MURPH: Aren’t the athletes going to get tired of all this working out? Won’t they need some breaks? Even elite athletes take some time off.
TARA: Yes, you’re right. We’ll build in a few two-week breaks throughout the year and we’ll give them — I don’t know — two straight months off in the summer. It’s too hot to work out then anyway.
MURPH: But won’t a lot of athletes, especially those whose parents don’t value exercise and healthy eating, regain the weight and fall back into bad habits?
TARA: Perhaps. But the trainers will just have to work extra hard to make up for it.
MURPH: Just one last question, Tara. What is your background? Do you own a gym? Are you a former Olympian? Have you ever been a trainer yourself?
TARA: No, nothing like that. I’m rich. I’m very, very rich.