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With Gym Being Cut From Schools, Why Are We Surprised At The Obesity Pandemic?

With Gym Being Cut From Schools, Why Are We Surprised At The Obesity Pandemic?

So many children are overweight today that there is talk of an obesity pandemic.

Exercise is key to keeping kids — all of us — healthy and fit, along with our diet. Plus, physical activity has been shown to have all sorts of benefits for children’s academic performance, including helping them to focus better and even making them (and all of us) smarter.

Yet, many school districts around the nation are cutting physical education classes and not providing students with the recommended amount of hours of PE per week. Principals frequently invoke budget cuts as the reason for lessening, or eliminating, PE, as well as the need to spend more time preparing students for standardized tests.

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has made public health a priority during his years in office, most recently with his well-publicized ban on the sale of large-size sodas. But while, ten years ago, 14.4 percent of NYC high school students said they had no PE classes in a week, that figure has now risen to 20.5 percent. Nationwide, nearly half of high schoolers told the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that they have no PE classes in an average week.

Even in a city with a reputation for healthy living, San Francisco, only 20 percent of the elementary schools meet California’s requirement that students have 20 minutes per day of PE.

Other disquieting statistics:

Anatola Elementary School in Van Nuys, California, has no gym and no gym teachers.

The Miami-Dade School District in Florida came thisclose to cutting PE for middle school students, period.

As the parent of a 15-year-old boy, I can say that cutting PE for middle schoolers — struggling through puberty and finding themselves without recess and playgrounds — is an unfortunate proposition. Charlie absolutely needs to run around and engage his physical strength and energy. But PE was infrequent when he was in special education classes in various New Jersey towns. Indeed, at one elementary school, he had PE once a week on Friday afternoon.

Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, has suggested actually  ”injecting language into the federal budget” to create ”incentives for schools to report how much physical activity students are getting.” At his urging, the Government Accountability Office has investigated the issue and reported in February that “while schools appeared more aware of the benefits of physical education, ‘they have reduced the amount of time spent’ on such classes,” says the New York Times.

In other words, schools are glad to talk about the importance of PE and cite requirements, but it is a different matter about actually implementing them. In the New York Times, Kathleen Grimm, New York City’s deputy schools chancellor for operations, trumpets that the city has been “honored, nationally, for a program to assess students’ fitness and that 850,000 pupils had completed the program this year.”

But assessing fitness is one thing and actually having PE programs and instructors, who actually teach students, are two very different matters.

Small measures such as ten-minute “fitness breaks” — in which students in a science class might stand up and clap out heart beats — sound like positive steps to teach students about integrating physical activity in their daily routines. But the less than stellar report card about PE for students, in the US in general and in New York City in particular, is a reminder that, in addressing the obesity pandemic, we need to do more than say “no” to soda. It’s just as vital to say “yes” to physical activity.

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Photo of an increasingly rare scene -- gym class -- in many schools by zhurnaly

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23 comments

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7:15PM PDT on Jul 24, 2012

In public schools, most fo which are a super-costly joke mandated by a political ssytem, alsoa joke, outrageous taxes pay for what? Teachers on tenure? If a public school had tax money cut for dropping gym, what a hue and cry that would raise! One way out? parents, those who can must promote physical activity, and those who can't? That is beyond me, and beyond many poeple who should have ideas on the subject. The time is approaching when bringing up the kids will be on teh parents, as it was in teh 19th century. Why? Because public funding has outspent and out stolen itself to the point where family life will prevail or fail again.

10:38PM PDT on Jul 12, 2012

Sandra, please stop being a bully. It is people like you that fat shame 10 year olds to the point they develop a starvation eating disorder! Oh how horrible, we're not mandating children run like a hamster in a wheel! Whatever shall we do, we don't want them getting fat, even though we know puberty naturally means weight gain. Better get those kids back out there running till exhaustion, so we can continue pretending thinness equals invincibility!

8:57PM PDT on Jul 12, 2012

Yes, PE class was required in the 60s and 70s, and I am still paying the physical price for the injuries to my feet I suffered in those classes. X-rays of my feet show bones that look like they've been motheaten. My podiatrist told me that because of my bone structure I should never have done any high impact exercises ever in my life. I hope that in places which still require PE that children are screened to determine those who can safely participate and those who cannot.

5:48PM PDT on Jul 12, 2012

Why are we surprised? Because the faux news watching lemmings are still ignorant of their ways perhaps?

3:05PM PDT on Jul 12, 2012

Joe V.: "In my day my dad was on a basketball court, baseball diamond and football field passing the ball to me, hitting fly balls to me and tossing the football to me. I suppose the parents of today are oh so busy."

Newsflash: Not everyone has a dad and/or a safe place to play.

Besides, kids need a break to burn off energy, instead of sitting in a desk for 6-7 straight hours, expected to be "on" the entire time.

2:35PM PDT on Jul 12, 2012

This has been one of my pet peeves. When I was in school, in the 1960's and early 1970's P.E. was manditory for every child every day for 12 years of school. We had to dress out and participate, in everything from sports to walking and running. We learned tennis, golf, flag football for the girls, gymnastics, field hockey, you name it, we probably spent time doing it. It was good for us physically and mentally. Now my grandchildren get P.E. twice a week for 30 minutes, in elementary school, and in 7th grade they get it every day for one period for that year. That is it, it is never required again. When budget cuts come, which they have alot, the first things that go are art, music and P.E. These things are important too. We are raising kids who are fat, lazy and aren't learning anything about culture.

2:16PM PDT on Jul 12, 2012

Hmmm, do parents play any role whatsoever in raising their child or is there a total dependence on the school system. In my day my dad was on a basketball court, baseball diamond and football field passing the ball to me, hitting fly balls to me and tossing the football to me. I suppose the parents of today are oh so busy. This problem is not the school's fault.

10:13AM PDT on Jul 12, 2012

I used to walk over 3/4 of a mile to school. And we had gym 5 days a week, every year from 7th through 12th grade. Now if you live more than a few blocks from school, you ride and there is no recess and no gym. And children can't play outside because their mothers have to work and are not at home. We need to reorder our society.

9:07AM PDT on Jul 12, 2012

I hated PE at school because it was always team sports, and I was never good at them. Now I teach Tai Chi Chuan and exercise a lot. If schools lack exercise options they could look for help from teachers in other systems (martial arts, dance, gymnastics etc) many teachers would help out for a small fee and some might do it for free.

8:40AM PDT on Jul 12, 2012

CA preserved their PE in the latest budget cuts for such reasons

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