Cutting physical education programs could pose health risk

An Illinois researcher says recent reports citing childhood obesity as one of the nation’s latest health epidemics can be tied to cuts in physical education programs at school intended to boost children’s academic achievement.From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign :Cutting physical education programs poses health risk, scholar says

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. ? Recent reports citing childhood obesity as one of the nation’s latest health epidemics are generating calls for action by physical education experts, among them, Kim Graber, a kinesiology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Graber said it’s no coincidence that children have become increasingly more sedentary and obese ? and are suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease ? as public schools have eliminated or made severe cutbacks in physical education programs. The trend, she said, is an unintended consequence of past educational reforms aimed at boosting children’s academic achievement.

“In nearly every state and certainly in a majority of school districts, time assigned for physical education is being eroded, requirements are being dropped and economic measures such as increasing class size are so commonplace as to no longer attract attention,” Graber told an audience recently at the Healthy Schools Summit in Washington, D.C.

“What is saved by starving health promotion activities in the schools will be lost a thousand-fold by spiraling health-care costs down the line,” she said. And while common practices such as assigning elementary classroom teachers to teach P.E. classes ? despite a lack of professional training ? may in the past have been viewed as a viable means of stretching school-district budgets, “it may today represent a classic case of being penny-wise and pound-foolish,” she said.

Besides “an entrenched pattern of inadequate personnel assignments,” Graber said other problems that must be addressed include “limited time, lack of accountability, and little recognition that to reliably achieve both short-term and long-term benefits will demand a major input of new resources.” All represent significant ? yet surmountable ? obstacles to overhauling public-school physical education programs, said Graber, the president of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

In order for physical education to be viewed as more than just an “appendage” and be regarded as a priority program by school districts, she said, various constituencies ? policymakers, educators, parents, principals and school board members ? must come together to rally toward that goal.

“Either we make more time by extending the school day, week or year ? something the policymakers have been reluctant to do ? and then devote some of that expanded resource to physical education, or we make better and more creative divisions of the time available,” Graber said.

Finding the time is just part of the solution. Additional financial resources also must be directed toward hiring professionals, whom Graber said are better trained and more knowledgeable than ever before regarding “the nature of what constitutes a sound physical education program.”

“As for the money to properly staff physical education instruction,” she said, “we must keep up a steady drumbeat of persuasion by hammering on the simple economic facts of the matter. Left unchecked, the current trends in mortality and morbidity will be devastating to our nation’s economy.”

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