Can this Bahraini couple's startup help fight childhood obesity in the Gulf?
Yoga, Team Awesome, Muay Thai, Zumba, and Parkour all sound like classes you can take at a gym that combines fun with fitness. This is certainly true of Jump Gym in Bahrain — except that the fitness center caters to a unique clientele: children aged 5 to 13 years.
Given the growing epidemic of child obesity in the Gulf region, and the bloating of the regional economy with the proliferation of unhealthy food franchises and restaurants, Jump Gym is tackling a serious issue that government and intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) have prioritized.
In Bahrain, child obesity is around 26 percent; in Saudi, it’s around 23 percent; in Qatar, 40 percent; while one in every three children is obese in the UAE and in Kuwait.
Husband and wife, and parents to three children, Nofa Hamza and Othman Janahi first began toying with the concept of a kid’s gym in November 2012, quickly realizing the idea was imperative to counteract the pervasive sedentary lifestyle of watching TV and playing video games.
Moreover, as anyone living in the Gulf will know, temperatures can reach a scorching 50 degrees centigrade in the summer and 100 per cent humidity, making outdoor activities an elusive role in the lives of Gulf families and their children.
“Typically, gyms are only accessible to those 16 years and older as the facilities, equipment, and programs are not suitable for children. Jump on the other hand is equipped with specially designed Italian-made machines that focus on developing a child’s muscles to improve physical fitness and stamina,” Hamza explains.
“Many people mistake us for being a play area for kids, but we are in fact a fully-fledged gym with qualified instructors and a professional dietician helping kids reduce their weight through customized nutrition and exercise programs,” Hamza clarifies.
With the majority of those working in the fitness industry in Bahrain coming from non-Arab countries, Hamza beams with pride saying, “Our trainers are 100 percent Bahraini!"
The main challenge Hamza faced was financing the expensive equipment, which was in part funded by her husband as well as the Bahrain Development Bank.
With her husband as an investor in the business and the CFO of Jump, Hamza has an extremely supportive family. This also includes her zealous nieces and nephews who have evangelized the gym to all their friends — providing effective and cost-free advertising!
Jump has attracted quite a following on Instagram with more than 18,500 subscribers eager to join the gym to tackle their obesity and recalibrate towards a healthier and more active lifestyle.
I ask about the difficulties in educating unhealthy parents on physical fitness and nutrition. Hamza pauses then says thoughtfully, “In many cases, children have been their parents’ teachers and role models; schooling them on health tips learned from the fitness coaches and inspiring a mindset and lifestyle shift,”
Currently located in Riyadat Mall in A’ali, a business incubator supporting women-led enterprises, Jump Gym is looking to franchise the concept across the Gulf in an effort to lead a kid’s fitness revolution.