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Some food for thought... (Read 1333 times)
carla
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Some food for thought...
Apr 12th, 2008 at 4:06pm
 
Newsweek
HEALTH MATTERS
Mary Carmichael
Phys. Ed. Is Not Dead Yet
Apr 14, 2008 Issue

As a kid, I hated P.E. class so much that the word "kick-ball" still gives me shudders. It was embarrassing (gym shorts) and, worse, it seemed useless, at least to my 12-year-old self. I was already in decent shape, and although some of my classmates didn't get much exercise outside P.E., the class was no remedy—they didn't get much inside it, either. They were always picked last for teams; they slouched through the motions; on "fun" Fridays, when you could choose to play ball or sit out, they sat. The only kids who liked P.E. were the jocks, who didn't need it. Why, I wondered, didn't we just get rid of the class?

Someone must have heard my adolescent prayers, because in the early '90s schools starting cutting back on P.E., and many now fail to offer their students any physical activity at all. Just 3.8 percent of elementary schools and 2.1 percent of high schools had daily gym class in 2006, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. By comparison, in 1991, 42 percent of kids took daily P.E. For this slide, you can partly blame (or, if you're 12, thank) No Child Left Behind, with its heavy emphasis on reading and math and lack of emphasis on everything else. "The idea of NCLB was to make our children academically well rounded," says Richard Simmons, the workout guru. "Now they're just round."

Teenage freaks and geeks notwithstanding, a lot of people are up in arms about this, since school programs often use gym class as one of two weapons against childhood obesity (the other, of course, is nutrition). The demise of P.E. is "a tragedy," says Simmons—who, by the way, was once a "fat, lumpy, lethargic" P.E. hater who got picked last.

It's true that the link between gym class and childhood obesity seems laughably obvious. But it's also true that there's little good real-life data to back up that assumption.

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carla
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Re: Some food for thought...
Reply #1 - Apr 12th, 2008 at 4:07pm
 
Studies are scarce on whether traditional gym classes make a difference for the kids who need help the most. Last week one of the nation's primary P.E. boosters published a study suggesting that schools may not need to push P.E.—that a nutrition-only approach to weight loss in schools can work. Gary Foster, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University, overhauled several elementary schools' lunch menus; he also snuck nutrition education into regular classes (students learned about fractions by slicing fruit). But he didn't touch the standard, relatively sparse P.E. curriculum. The one-pronged plan worked—just 7.5 percent of the kids in the target schools grew overweight in the next two years, compared with twice that many in control schools. "It's kind of surprising" that the non-P.E. tactics worked so well by themselves, says Foster.

So is he giving up on gym? Sorry, kids, but no. He's still convinced that it can help, and next year he'll have much more data from a larger pilot that did stress the importance of physical activity. In the meantime, other studies have shown that P.E. boosts brainpower (attention, test-score fanatics) if it's done right. That may be the key to fighting obesity as well—instead of just changing the amount of P.E. kids get, change the type. Get the fat, lumpy, lethargic kids in the game. Entice them with workouts that masquerade as entertainment, like Dance Dance Revolution. Don't make them play team sports—give each a ball and unleash controlled chaos as soon as kids leave the locker room. That may not be fun for P.E. teachers, says Foster—"it's easier to just put the kids in a row and take 10 minutes for roll call"—but, he adds, it's a better use of the time. Several congressmen agree; they've sponsored a bill, the FIT Kids Act, that could make all this happen. It's currently stalled. If it means the end of kickball, I'm all for giving it a kick-start.

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