Like the rest of America, our nation’s kids are getting fatter. Rising obesity rates are expanding waistlines and saddling our children with health conditions that were once reserved exclusively for adults.
It’s no wonder the New England Journal of Medicine claims childhood obesity will now create the first generation of American kids whose average life span will be shorter than that of their parents.
There are a slew of factors driving this downward health spiral, but many experts agree that there is one place where policy changes could quickly yield sustained positive results: our schools. Children are in the care of schools for a majority of their waking day and many children also consume a majority of their meals at school.
Unfortunately, school nutrition and physical fitness policies are often the result of shortsighted decisions, misplaced priorities and competing interests.
In 2008, KCPT launched an extraordinary series of programs that pick apart the obstacles and challenges facing schools in their battle against sedentary lifestyles and bad eating habits and goes on a search for solutions.
In GENERATION XL: The Rise and Fall of PE in Schools. More than a dozen health, education, political and community leaders take on what some say has become an “endangered species” in America’s school system: PE classes.
Only eight percent of elementary schools and six percent of the nation’s middle and high schools are meeting approved government goals for weekly exercise.
Illinois is the only state that requires daily PE in every grade. In Kansas, state mandates are so loose there is nothing requiring seventh or eighth graders to take any form of physical exercise during the school day.
One key reason there’s less time in the school day for gym class is because of increased pressure to test children to chart academic performance. More minutes building muscles would mean less time toning test scores, says Charlene Burgeson, executive director of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. “The difficulty is that the school day is already very crowded,” Burgeson argues. “When push comes to shove, things such as physical education get cut.”
Even “recess” is being phased out in many places. A national education survey finds that 29 percent of elementary schools schedule no recess for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
“None of which bodes well for a child’s education. That’s the irony of all this,” says Tom Templin, past president of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. “We’ve known for a long time that the body and mind work together. If kids aren’t healthy, their academic prowess is affected.”
The good news is that there are a number of area school districts now working to increase physical exercise and to implement innovative ways of reinventing PE.
But at what cost?
Pat Colloton (R)
KANSAS STATE REPRESENTATIVE
Dr. Gary George
OLATHE SCHOOL DISTRICT
KNEA TEACHERS UNION
KS ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL BOARDS
KANSAS HEALTH INSTITUTE
Judy Baker (D)
MISSOURI STATE REPRESENTATIVE
MO ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL BOARDS
FORMER SUPERINTENDENT, KCMO SCHOOLS
WOODLAND ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, KCMO
PE DIRECTOR, BLUE VALLEY WEST
Sarah Hampl M.D.
CHILDREN’S MERCY HOSPITAL/UMKC
BLUE CROSS & BLUE SHIELD
Dr. Cheryl Wright
LINCOLN PREP MIDDLE SCHOOL, KCMO
Dr. Marge Williams
SUPERINTENDENT, HICKMAN MILLS
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Production Funding for Generation XL provided by: