Friday, August 18, 2006

Schools Should Boost Kids' Daily Exercise

(HealthDay News) -- Citing "alarming health trends" on kids' obesity, the Top of Form

American Heart Association (AHA) is calling on schools to aggressively promote physical education throughout the academic day.
The organization is proposing nine practical steps that elementary schools, high schools, child development centers, colleges, universities, school districts and states can all take to provide opportunities for elementary and high school kids to exercise.

"Kids spend a lot of time in the schools for a lot of years, and in order for them to be as physically active as they need in order to be healthy, schools are going to have to take the initiative," said Russell Pate, chairman of the group that drafted the recommendations, and a profFueling the concern, the AHA said, is the dramatically rising obesity rates among American children over the past two decades: About 16 percent of kids aged 6 to 19 are now considered overweight.
And a 2003 survey showed that more than one third of the students spend no more than 20 minutes a day on vigorous activity, while their time in front of the TV is up to three hours daily, the AHA added.

The AHA statement, published this week in Circulation, calls for:
Schools to establish a daily minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity during school hours, and set up health education programs that encourage exercise and discourage sedentary behavior;

Schools to establish optional exercise programs outside school hours, provide extracurricular sports clubs, and promote safe walking and biking routes to school;

States to ensure that physical education (PE) programs are taught by certified and highly qualified teachers, and to hold schools accountable for the adequacy of such programs and for ensuring they are part of a core curriculum;

Child development centers and elementary schools to ensure at least 30 minutes of daily recess for exercise;

Higher education groups to establish programs that produce highly qualified PE and health education teachers.

The AHA statement cites a host of statistics that suggest that school exercise is sorely lacking.
Between 1991 and 2003, the percentage of high school students taking PE classes dropped from more than 41 percent to little more than 28 percent.

Between 6 percent and 8 percent of schools at all grade levels offer PE at the recommended levels of between 150 and 225 minutes a week, depending on student age.

Fewer than 33 percent of those kids who live within a mile of their school get there by walking or biking. That figure drops to just 3 percent for kids residing within two miles of their school.
With exercise getting such failing grades, one expert applauds the effort to prioritize PE.

However, Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at the Yale University School of Medicine, cautions that schools are currently caught between a rock and a hard place.
"I support the statement, and I think every parent and school should support it," he said. "But while it's well and good for the AHA to say that schools should promote physical activity, we can't just leave it at that, because they will ask us to help make it possible at a time when we've actually been making it more and more difficult for them to do so."

In that regard, Katz highlighted the impact that the 2002 passage of the federal "No Child Left Behind Act" (NCLB) has had on school curricula.

Emphasizing "core" subjects such as math and reading, the law has dramatically increased pressure to allocate more time for standardized test preparation, he noted.

As a result, Katz suggested that PE programs and even recess breaks are being pushed to the national backburner, where cutbacks and even elimination have become the trend.

"I've said that NCLB is leaving far too many children on their behinds," said Katz, a father of five. "So while I agree that schools have an obligation to cultivate the physical, as well as mental, well-being of children, we can't impose an additional burden without offering empowering and creative strategies."

To that end, Katz suggests that educators take a fresh and practical look at how PE could perhaps be integrated directly into classroom studies -- so that mental and physical activities aren't forced to compete for time and money.

On that point, Pate agreed.

"He's right about that, and our view is that it doesn't have to be an either-or situation," he said. "We think the schools can deliver both excellent academic programs and the physical activity students need during the school day."

More information
For more on exercise and children, visit the American Heart Association.
By Alan MozesHealthDay Reporteressor of exercise science at the University of South Carolina, in Columbia.

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