The battle against childhood obesity rages on. Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services released a report calling for - no surprise - increasing physical activity among children. A recent survey found that only 29 percent of high school students were meeting the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity specified in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans released in 2008.
"Dramatic action needs to be taken to increase physical activity in American kids," physical education classes, as well as more before and after school programs, improving infrastructure to encourage walking and biking, and increasing access to parks.
While many schools have embraced their role in improving student health and activity levels, others have been criticized for what some consider misguided policies. Recently, the North Andover (Mass.) Public Schools' policy of screening students' Body Mass Index and sending home "fat letters" to parents of overweight students came under fire after an otherwise-healthy and active 10-year-old wrestler received such a letter.
In response to the government report, as well as other calls to action to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic, the American Council on Exercise has also issued the following Position Statement on Physical Activity in School:
U.S. children suffer from a crisis of physical inactivity. Studies suggest that the average child accumulates only 35 of the recommended 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity; rates are much lower among adolescents who get only about 8.5 minutes per day. Just 42% of children and 8% of adolescents achieve the recommended levels of activity.
Physical inactivity is associated with obesity, missed school days, lower test scores, less lifetime income, higher healthcare costs, more sick days taken, and early mortality. On the other hand, physically active children have better health and fitness, do better in school, and achieve higher levels of lifetime success.
ACE believes strongly that schools, parents, professionals, community members, and other stakeholders should work together to make 60 minutes of physical activity a reality for all children and adolescents. ACE supports the following approaches to increase youth activity:
• Increase everyday activity through active transportation to and from school by implementing Walk-to-School programs and biking groups
• Increase opportunities for physical activity during the school day with daily scheduled short activity breaks and active recess
• Integrate physical activity into the school curriculum
• Increase the availability of physical education in schools and enhance the physical education curriculum to maximize active time for all students
• Enhance before- and after-school programs to provide more time spent in direct physical activity