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"I believe that education is the civil rights issue of our generation." – U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan, October 9, 2009

Education in America: Neglecting Physical Education Contributes to Childhood Obesity

According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of childhood obesity has increased threefold since 1980. The recommended amount of physical activity for children and adolescents is 60 minutes daily. High school students, however, meet far below this recommendation. One-third of these students do not exercise on a regular basis.

Thanks to Jackie Manetzke photography

The New York Times article Despite Obesity Concerns, Gym Classes Are Cut, claims that there are schools in America that lack physical education classes, PE teachers, even facilities such as gyms and playgrounds. Without such facilities, one elementary school teacher in California arranged students to exercise at an off-campus playground one day a week. Even she admits that they sometimes cancel the program if it rains.

The information that this article disclosed was disturbing to me. It is astonishing that physical activity for children and adolescents has gone so low on the priority list for education in America. I am in agreement with the article when it says that schools have increasingly become aware of the importance and benefits of physical education classes. However, with budget cuts, lack of resources, facilities, teachers, and the heavy emphasis on getting kids to meet standard on national assessments, I can understand how making sure children meet the daily-recommended amount of exercise is difficult.

I think that if money and facilities are not available, schools should make use of the resources they do have. Here are some proposed ideas:

Get volunteering college athletes to come to schools and share their knowledge on living a healthy lifestyle. Have athletes share the sport that they love, lead activities, and teach basic stretching and strength exercises. From this, students will not only learn from volunteers with expertise, but may become inspired. College athletes are role models for children, and I think this is one way we can instill motivation in children to get active.

Many schools find it difficult to make time for physical education classes due to the pressure of preparing students for standardized tests. If physical activity cannot be squeezed into the school day, perhaps schools can form groups and clubs to meet before or after school. Yes, yes I’ve heard of afterschool athletics, but what if we expanded on this idea?

Arrange groups to walk or bike to school (rain or shine!) or make a twist on show-and-tell, letting kids share their favorite sport or physical activity. Making physical activity fun, interesting, social, and a routine part of children’s lives is one way we can get children excited about exercise.

How else can schools help children to meet the daily-recommended amount of exercise? How can we help schools accomplish this?

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