HealthCommentary

Exploring Human Potential

PE in Our Nation’s Schools

Posted on | June 10, 2008 | No Comments

A case of “many children left behind” and a nice “FIT” for health care

Physical education used to be a standard feature in the American educational system, but it’s barely visible now. And that may be having a much greater negative impact than we realize.

Claus von Zastrow, PhD, executive director of Learning First Alliance, a non-profit partnership of 18 major national education associations that collectively represent over 10 million educators, parents and policymakers, says many of his colleagues in education are now classifying the lack of PE in schools as a growing public health issue. According to Dr. von Zastrow, more and more of a typical child’s school day is given over to math or reading instruction, and time for physical activity–recess or physical education — has all but evaporated in many schools.

What’s the problem with that? Obesity, mostly. The rates of childhood obesity have been advancing steadily for the past 35 years. Six percent of young people between the ages of 6 and 19 are now overweight today, and an additional 31 percent more are viewed as at-risk of becoming overweight. Almost half of all young people between ages 12 and 21 get no vigorous exercise at all on a daily basis. Sedentary children are more likely to be obese, and obese children have higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol levels and a greater incidence of type 2 diabetes. And obese children are very likely to become obese adults, troubled for life by a wide variety of chronic diseases.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, inactivity among adolescents is a contributing factor to the increasing trends in overweight. The CDC has developed guidelines to promote physical activity among young people Although the guidelines recommend daily PE for all students, only 8 percent of elementary school students, and 6 percent of middle school and high school students, provide daily physical education.

Some point to the 2001 No Child Left Behind legislation as a contributor to the problem. Since the outcome-based approach placing schools at-risk for poor performance was enacted, 9 percent of school districts reported decreasing time on PE by an average of 40 minutes a week to make more time for English/language arts and mathematics. Schools serving economically disadvantaged students fared even worse.

But cutting PE may result in the opposite of its intended effect. Studies show that regular physical activity has a positive effect on children’s cognitive function.

And that brings me to the Fitness Integrated with Teaching Kids Act or the FIT Kids Act being considered by Congress.  It suggests a national goal of 150 minutes of weekly physical education in elementary school and 225 minutes of weekly physical education in middle and high schools, and urges further study of approaches to improve student health and physical activity.

The Fit Kids Act sounds to me like a great "fit" for advancing this nation’s preventive health. What’s your opinion? As always, watch this week’s video, embedded on this page, or read the full transcript, below. Then let me know how you feel.

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