Cutbacks in PE class time could have long-term impact on children

Thursday, May 4, 2006

A new survey conducted by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education shows even though most states require physical education for students, the time for classes is brief and other academic demands often eat into that time. Dr. James Morrow, a professor of kinesiology, health promotion, and recreation at the University of North Texas, says the cutbacks in physical education may be associated with increased obesity in school-age children.

The survey showed six states don't have laws requiring physical education classes in schools, while 12 states allow students to earn PE credit through online classes.

In Texas, all students enrolled in full-day kindergarten or in the first through sixth grades in a public elementary school setting are required to participate in "structured physical activity" for a minimum of either 30 minutes daily or 135 minutes weekly, in accordance with the Texas Education Code. Actual physical education classes must be "offered," but individual school districts decide whether they are required courses or electives in kindergarten through eighth grades.

Students in public Texas high schools are required to one and one-half credits of physical education courses to graduate, although school districts may allow students to substitute activities such as drill team, marching band and cheerleading for the courses.

Morrow points out that though levels of obesity have increased in Americans in the last decade, including in children and teenagers, the amount and intensity of physical education classes in schools has not changed.

"With the perceived obesity epidemic in young people, both diet and physical activity need to be closely monitored," he says. "Kids need to be engaged in some form of physical activity 60 minutes a day. It doesn't matter what they do at long as it involves moderate to vigorous physical activity."

He says classroom time to prepare students for state achievement tests and for meeting the "No Child Left Behind" federal education requirements has steadily eaten into physical education time.

Morrow presented a lecture last December to the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. Titled, "Are American Children and Youth Fit? It's Time We Learned," the lecture pointed out that nationwide data on a sample of children and youth fitness levels have not been collected in more than 20 years.

Morrow says the decreased emphasis on physical education classes could have long-term impact, such as not encouraging the next generation to be physical every day. So adults must lead by their examples, he says.

He cites a study published last year in the "Archives of Internal Medicine."

"It showed only two percent of adult males and four percent of adult females had what we could consider a healthy lifestyle -- they exercise, control their weight, eat fruits and vegetables, and don't smoke," he says. "If adults can't live healthy, how can kids?"

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