August 3, 2012
Over the last decade, our country has struggled to overcome the devastating health and economic impacts of unhealthy eating and inactivity. Individuals and communities are frustrated by increased rates of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic diseases associated with how and what we eat and how much we move (or don’t). Fortunately, we have plenty of evidence showing how to improve the health of Americans and that evidence includes better physical education in schools.
We know we need to start young, because obese children are much more likely to become obese adults and suffer resulting health problems. And we know one effective method of combating obesity in youth is quality physical education (PE). In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends schools provide daily PE as a proven way to increase physical activity.
Unfortunately, budget cuts and the growing emphasis on academic testing have drastically reduced schools’ ability to make PE a priority.
In North Carolina, PE is a component of Healthful Living Education, and by state statute, must be taught starting in kindergarten. The State Board of Education recommends 150 minutes per week of physical education for elementary and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students. However, few school districts in North Carolina provide that much time for PE, and the quality and effectiveness of PE varies greatly from school to school across our state.
This means we must make sure whatever time is spent on PE is truly quality time, with a focus on getting all children, not just athletes, moving in ways they are likely to continue outside of school and into adulthood.
Teaching innovative and more effective ways of getting kids moving is the focus of a five-day institute hosted this week by the N.C. Center for Health & Wellness at UNC Asheville for more than 250 PE teachers from across the country. This inaugural National PE Institute offers presentations from leading fitness educators – including Shellie Pfohl, executive director of the President’s Council for Fitness, Sports and Nutrition – along with school-friendly approaches to juggling, dance, jump rope, and exergaming that can help engage all students.
We in North Carolina are fortunate that almost half of the teachers attending the institute will be from our state, because, while the future of PE remains uncertain, the health impacts of childhood obesity are real. As a region and state we need to reassess the priority and support given to PE as an essential part of the curriculum. Parents and educators need to bear in mind that quality PE programs produce academic as well as heath benefits. Active, alert and relaxed student perform better academically.
We hope the National PE Institute in Asheville will help the teachers attending become more creative and effective in their work with our children. We hope it will also help spur similar efforts across North Carolina and the nation. We can’t sit still on this. The only way to reduce obesity is to get moving, and keep moving.
By: David Gardner, Executive Director, N.C. Center for Health and Wellness