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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)
One of Tom Cronan's dreams was to make sure that every child had the opportunity to reach his or her potential.
The two of us are so proud to see Tennessee taking a big step toward making that dream come true by passing the Tom Cronan Physical Education Act.
One reason for that pride is that both of us testified last year before the Senate Education Committee about the importance of the bill - and its potential to help make kids healthier across Tennessee.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron and Rep. Roger Kane, placed an emphasis on quality instruction. Physical activity and quality physical education are crucial to our youth - and to our national security.
According to the Department of Defense, 71 percent of all 17-to-24-year-olds in the United States are unable to serve in the armed forces. Here in Tennessee, that figure rises to 73 percent. That means that, for nearly three-fourths of young Tennessee adults of prime recruiting age, serving in the military is not an option.
The leading medical disqualifier for military service is being overweight. The military can be an excellent career path for many Americans, but being overweight closes off that path. This problem also undermines national security by shrinking the potential pool of service members.
Moreover, the obesity crisis negatively affects the armed services far beyond recruiting. How severe is the problem? The national-security organization Mission: Readiness points to research showing that the military discharges more than 2,600 service members for being overweight or out of shape every year. Recruiting and training replacements costs $50,000 to $150,000 per person, totaling $500 million annually. The Defense Department also spends an estimated $1.1 billion per year on obesity-related medical expenses for active-duty men and women, their dependents, and for veterans.
This example is just one manifestation of our obesity epidemic. The deadly consequences of inactivity go far beyond military-related issues. In fact, research shows that one in 10 premature deaths in the United State is the result of inactivity, which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer and heart disease.
At a time when our nation is facing this epidemic, we know that being active is tremendously important for children as they grow.
The Tom Cronan Physical Education Act will help do more to give kids opportunities to learn and adopt a more active lifestyle. Previously, Tennessee did not require a minimum number of minutes per week for physical education. We were one of just nine states that didn't require PE.
Now, every Tennessee student in elementary school will have at least two PE classes per week. Those classes will total a minimum of one hour. Just as importantly, the classes must be taught by a licensed teacher with an endorsement in physical education or a specialist in physical education.
Reforms like these, which place an emphasis on regular physical activity and quality education, demonstrate that our state understands just how important PE is in teaching children to develop positive, healthy habits that can last a lifetime.
For example, the sports-leader network Champions for America's Future highlighted a rigorous study that found that adolescents who participated in high-quality, daily PE reduced their odds of becoming an overweight adult by 28 percent. Regular physical activity has also been shown to help students be more competitive in the classroom.
Tom understood that steps like these help all children have the best opportunity for success in their lives. He didn't live to see this bill become law. But we're sure he was smiling down when it happened.
Joan Cronan is Women's Athletic Director Emeritus, University of Tennessee, a member of Champions for America's Future, and wife of the late Tom Cronan. Eden Murrie is a retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General, a member of Mission: Readiness, and currently COO, Operation Stand Down Tennessee.
Joan Cronan and Eden Murrie - Guest columnists
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