Obesity rates among children have almost tripled over the last 30 years. The increase has been blamed on everything from fast food chain restaurants to television marketing, but there is one major contributor that can no longer be ignored:
Kids today aren't as physically active as they need to be.
It has become way too easy for them to go directly from the school desk during the day to the computer chair at home in the afternoon and eventually to the couch or bed to watch television at night.
It has become even easier to refrain from necessary physical activity now that PE is no longer mandatory in most schools. Only one state, Illinois, has mandatory daily PE for kids in grades K thru 12.
Of course, this was not the norm ten years ago, but budget restraints have led many schools to drop PE classes to save money. The 30 to 60 minutes of activity kids were getting throughout the day has been almost eliminated completely. Now the only exercise a child gets during an eight hour school day is walking to and from his or her locker.
'We are seeing an erosion of physical education nationally at the high school and at the elementary level because we are adding other academic requirements, such as computers and art,' said Marybell Avery, president for the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.
Computers and art are certainly important, but the consequences of no PE seem too important to ignore. We live in a technological age where most kids prefer a video game to a bicycle and an ipod session to a game of tag. If they do not get the daily physical activity needed to be healthy from PE class, they may not get it at all.
This means that the current generation and future generations of children are all prime candidates for diseases relating to obesity, including heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.
If something does not change soon, the obesity epidemic will only get worse. But where will the money needed to finance mandatory PE come from? The question was recently posed by a principal of a middle school who was visited by basketball star Shaquille O'Neal.
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The visit was part of Shaq's new lobbying effort that has the goal of required PE and nutrition education in our nation's schools. The principal said that while he thought mandatory PE was a wonderful idea, the money needed to pay a teacher's salary was more than the school could currently afford.
That school is not alone in their predicament. Only 6 percent of our nation's schools have a mandatory PE program, and money is the reason more times than not. But some say it is not only money but legislation that is needed to improve the health and physical fitness education standards.
'We have a responsibility to ensure basic health and exercise for our young people so that they can live long, healthy lives,' says Senator Jane Nelson.
There are some states that have recently taken steps to enact legislation that may do just that. Texas, for example, just passed a new bill that requires mandatory PE for grades K thru 8, and physical fitness testing 3rd thru 12th graders. A total of $1.6 million is being raised to cover the program so it will be no cost to the state.
Dr. Kenneth Cooper initiated the bill's concept, and says he thinks the law will prove to be a victory for children.
'I expect Texas to be so successful that we will expand this program to test and require physical activity for our students in K-12. Once that happens, we will see the health -- not just of our children -- but of our entire state make a dramatic change for the better,' says Cooper.
Food For Thought
Supporters of mandatory PE classes say that schools need to work in conjunction with parents to ensure the health of our children. Those who oppose the idea of mandatory PE say that it is a parent's responsibility to make sure kids engage in enough physical activity throughout the day. What do you think?