Guest Blogger: Homework and obesity **Updated**

**Update**
Hello from Mrs. Q! Our guest blogger “Jack” emailed me with a comment and I invited him to write a longer piece with his idea. And so that is what it is: his idea. I like welcoming different perspectives to the blog. I love that this blog post has sparked many comments and little discussions.

Even within my house, Mr. Q vehemently disagrees with “Jack,” whereas I believe that when we are trying to wrap our heads around big problems, we should question everything. Certainly TV and videogames are huge in our fight for children. Maybe I need more blog posts from the anti-TV and anti-videogame contingent (of which I am a card-carrying member). But aren’t we already familar with their negative influence? (If you want to enlighten me further, email me)

Thinking about homework, with its good and bad points, is a new way of conceptualizing its effect on children as it relates to obesity. I personally think busy work should not be given as homework. I like project-based work because what do you actually remember when you grow up? The research project you did on dolphins in fifth grade. And much of that learning sticks with you (in the form of facts about a subject). Critical thinking skills should be encouraged, not just filling in the blanks. But of course I send home rote homework too. Drilling basic concepts page by page can be very important for many learners, but parents need to be involved.

Thanks for all of your comments!
**End of Update**

Childhood Obesity: A Hidden Cause

First off, a thank you to Mrs. Q for inviting me “Jack” to write this post. I am not sure how many of you readers saw the article recently posted on Yahoo regarding school lunches, childhood obesity, and military recruiting. Most of the time when I read stories like this, I like to read through the comments as well. It gives me a better idea of what other people think about a particular issue.
One theme I saw in almost every comment was some variation of “kids need to stop watching so much television, playing Xbox and using the computer and go play outside.” This is a very valid point. With schools cutting back on (or eliminating) PE and recess, kids are getting less and less exercise. Obviously this is part of the problem, however it is not just about kids watching television and playing video games. There is another issue causing kids to spend less time exercising.
Many people forget that as kids are given increasing amounts of homework, more time spent being sedentary as well. That’s right, in my view HOMEWORK is a contributing factor in childhood obesity. To me, sitting on one’s butt is sitting on one’s butt, regardless of what is being done during that time. The thought didn’t even cross my mind until I read a column about it a few years back. My son is only 1 year old right now but when I asked my friends and relatives with school aged kids, their kids were averaging about 45 minutes-1 ½ hours a day doing homework; sometimes even up to 2-3 hours! What astounds me most is that I am hearing stories of kids in kindergarten and first grade being given homework. I can’t recall having any homework until 3rd or 4th grade. And even then, it was maybe 2 or 3 days a week. As these kids get older, there are more demands on their time (after-school activities, friends, chores, part-time jobs) but they are also being given higher amounts of homework, so they get even less exercise. Now, I am not saying that kids don’t watch too much tv or play video games too often, but that is only part of the overall problem. Kids need more time to run around and play and generally…well, be kids. Giving them more and more work to do will only hurt them in the long run.
All these factors, PE/recess being cut, school lunches, a lack of healthy eating habbits at home, a sedentary lifestyle, and probably some others I forgot, are conspiring to make our kids heavier and causing this increase in childhood obesity. We all, teachers, parents and school administrators, need to work together to try and curb this problem before it gets even more out of hand.

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65 Responses to Guest Blogger: Homework and obesity **Updated**

  1. Kelly April 25, 2010 at 11:30 pm #

    I strongly contest the notion that homework is a major contributing factor to obesity, at least from what I can tell. My daughter is in 3rd grade, and definitely gets plenty of homework. It averages to about 1.5 – 2 hours but on one or 2 occasions actually dragged past 3 hours. She still manages to eat family dinners EVERY night and attend her cheer practices (4 nights/ week) and soccer (2 nights/ week). Trust me, she is in no way overweight. But the main factor (like so many others have mentioned) is that she gives up T.V. and video games to be able to play sports. She understands to sacrifice and fully accepts it since she gets so much more enjoyment out of running around with her friends and being social, instead of being stuck locked up in the house. It's really all about making the VERY BEST choices with whatever free time kids do have… even if that may be only an hour a day.

  2. Viki April 26, 2010 at 12:13 am #

    I don't believe that homework is a Leading cause of obesity. I do Know that a lot of homework is not necessary. In the early years you need to know your spelling words and the basics of math. Some kids pick things up faster than others. As a parent I found a lot of my kids homework was/is frustrating busy work.Homework is sometimes very stressful. That is my experience.
    Personally, I think that there are many contributing factors to childhood obesity: prepackaged and fast food, lack of exercise, the fact that in order for kids to play outside they need a play date, cable TV & DVR's and DVD's and video games.

    For me, as a child it was a truely special time to be able to go see a movie. Usually Only one parent worked and kids were in the neighborhood after school so we could play games outside. Everyone knew everyone else in the neighborhood, our parents felt it was safe for us to ride our bikes around the block or even to the local park by ourselves.
    We only had 3 stations on the TV and only 1 TV in the house.
    Times have changed.
    Food has changed.
    We used to entertain ourselves, not demand to be entertained.

  3. MJS April 26, 2010 at 12:58 am #

    I just have 2 points to make…

    1) It's silly to say "I had lots (or no) homework and I turned out FINE!". My mother fed me crap and I turned out fine but you know what? As soon as I was old enough to know better and do better for myself, I made different choices for me and for my family.

    2) The guest blogger's point is not that all homework makes children obese. It's that excessive homework (just like excessive calories, excessive TV, excessive video games) can contribute to obesity. That statement is obvious. Any sedentary activity done to the extreme is going to contribute to childhood obesity.

    I had to laugh at the "you went to a weak school if you had no homework" and "no homework will make kids stupider" comments. I won't bore you with all my credentials but suffice it to say they earned me a full ride to college and graduate school. I rarely, if ever did homework during my high school years. It just wasn't that hard for me and didn't take much time. Of course, I also realize that it would be foolish to generalize and disparage other people based on my personal experiences. All students have different skills and abilities and different schools use different models. Our high schools have a 4-block w/85min periods so most teachers give kids time for homework in class, plus they have an advisory period where they can do homework if no other activities are planned. If we were on a traditional schedule or an 8-block, our high schoolers probably would have to do more work at home.

  4. teach5 April 26, 2010 at 3:29 am #

    I teach Kindergarten and I give weekly homework. Goes home on Monday and comes back on Friday. It's designed for a child and caregiver to work together. It is a reading log, and a little math. They are asked to read, either to, or with someone for twenty minutes. There is also a weekly reminder of what high frequency words the child should know to this point in the year. If they do it, they learn. If not, hey I'm not the parent…… Seems like more and more the school is expected to take the place of the home. I do what I can, but the parents have primary responsibility for their child.

  5. Chernobyl April 26, 2010 at 4:01 am #

    Sorry, don't have time to read 55 comments, so I hope this is not a repeat…Let's not forget that aside from video games and homework, no child left behind has been at least a factor in screwing up the amount of time children spend at recess and P.E. When my youngest entered school, I was shocked to hear that they only went to p.e. twice a week! I thought there must be some mistake. Then I heard about the 15 minutes of recess (nice weather permitting!) Kids are being shortchanged in order to have more time to cram for standardized tests and to APPEAR competitive with countries that score better overall.

  6. Meg April 26, 2010 at 12:54 pm #

    I don't have time to read all of the comments but I disagree 100%. 1) most of the school systems my child and my friends children (spanning 7 states and 3x that in counties) have little to no homework. Work is usually CLASS work and is only brought home when time runs out in the class room (we've all talked about this before amongst ourselves because we think the lack of homework is strange and wrong) #2) Education is most important. Period. Yes, food is very important, exercise is very important. But to take away education for exercise is insane #3) We used to have 3 hours of homework every day, we weren't fat. We were healthy. Sitting on our posterior did not hurt us a bit because when our homework was done we went outside and played, even as teenagers. Now kids play vid games when they're finished.

  7. Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 1:20 pm #

    I have read most of these comments, and I agee with Chernobyl. As a high school teacher, I do assign homework. Twice a week, only on the days we offer free after-school tutoring with free transportation provided home. Even then, it rarely gets done. I do want to say, in response to those saying that American kids are already behind, other countries don't take on the responsibility of educating everyone like we do. Students who are better suited to trades are moved out of the mainstream around junior high age, and special ed is virtually non-existent. I think that is comparing apples and oranges.

  8. Shannon April 26, 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    I agree with this post. Kids spend 7 hours in school, often with no recess, 20 minutes to shove down lunch and then have to go home and do more work? The current system is "more is better" and I disagree with that 100%

    Kids should have time to play and be kids. This isn't even an obesity issue imo, it's quality of life.

    http://www.racetonowhere.com/

  9. ahauschildt April 26, 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    Disclaimer: I am not a licensed educator, but my life and family has been full of them. However, ever since I read a book about urban education my senior year of high-school, education has been a passion of mine. Whenever I could make it tie into an assignment in college, I researched and wrote about various topics in education.

    In elementary school, if I didn't have homework, my parents got the flashcards out. I played either softball or basketball year round, and maybe 1 or 2 other activities in the summer. I also took fun classes at summer school voluntarily. I did, however, have to drop 1 of my 4 school activities Junior year, as I starting working part-time and the quantity of homework really ramped up. I can relate to the poster that said he/she works on homework until midnight every night. Even with all of this, I was never obese, overwhelmed, or exhausted. Then again, I brown-bagged it for lunch and my parents (mostly my mom) cooked a family dinner every night. I didn’t always like it, but it was my only option for dinner; if I was hungry I ate it. In addition to football, which I watched with my dad and my brother, I had 2 or 3 half-hour programs that I could usually find time to watch each week. In high school, I think there were 3 or 4 hour long programs I could record during the week to fit in on the weekends. Beyond typical teenage angst, I never felt like I wasn’t having enough fun.

    Another poster mentioned that reading could also make a child obese. I wholeheartedly disagree. I have always been an avid reader – to the extent that I would complete the public library’s summer reading program within a week. I would finish at least 1 Young Adult level book a week (starting in about 2nd grade), but usually more. This is in addition to completing my nightly homework, taking part in my organized activities, and playing with my neighborhood friends. Today, I love to read at the gym – it is my “free” time to read whatever I want without feeling guilty that it isn’t related to work or grad school.

    Not all children are overwhelmed by homework. I personally enjoyed it because I had teachers who took the time to assign thoughtful work that was relevant. Through 8th grade, we got “punches” (in essence demerits) if we didn’t complete homework. This could lead to a 15 minute detention after school. I have an associate’s degree, two bachelor’s degrees (one obtained full-time at night while working full-time in a professional capacity), and I am currently working on an MBA part-time (while working full-time in a professional capacity). And let me tell you, I completed every single bit of homework ever assigned, even while working full-time. For me, completing the homework means I have to spend less time studying for exams and quizzes. I am still not overweight, despite being in a cubicle and classroom for 12 – 14 hours total on days when I have class. My husband (who is an educator) thinks it is amazing that I find time to do all of this, but I feel it is the discipline that my teachers and parents concurrently instilled in me when I was young. Yes, BOTH teachers and parents HAVE to help kids if we expect them to be well-rounded and prepared to succeed as adults, whether college is in their futures or not.

    Finally, at the school where my husband works, homework is discouraged. Since I didn’t personally attend that school, I wouldn’t normally comment on that. However, I once heard another teacher in his school say something disturbing. She is a product of that school, and went to college at the nearby (Big 10) university. She said when she reached college, the school did not prepare her to write even the basic 5 paragraph essay necessary for Comp 1.

    Thank you Mrs. Q., for providing a variety of very thoughtful, well-informed guest blogs with many different perspectives. I may not agree with everyone’s opinion, but I do agree that all ideas should be explored because the kids need us adults to teach them and help them learn to make healthy (and ethical) choices both in what they eat, but also in life.

  10. wlkingbluepirate April 26, 2010 at 6:12 pm #

    I wouldn't go so far as saying that too much homework is a cause of childhood obesity, but I still think Jack has a valid point. When I was in high school 10 years ago, two of my cousins were living with us who were in 1st and 2nd grade. They often spent about 4 times as much time a day on home work as I was as a high school junior. I don't remember my early elementary years all that clearly, but I KNOW we didn't have that much homework. But this could digress into an entirely different argument regarding the educational system as a whole.

    All that to say, that too much homework COULD be a minor contributing factor, and as it seems to be increasing over the years, it could become even more influential in the fight against obesity.

  11. Anonymous April 26, 2010 at 9:47 pm #

    Well now, I will disagree on homework. My kids actually have less than what I had at their age. I didn't like it then, and I most definitely don't like it now (especially all the new methods that are used). But there isn't any more than what I had.

    But I do want to ask. What about Day Care and After School Care? Most activities are organized to be small manageable stationary groups indoors. With short spurts of time outside, if any.

    As a Soccer Coach to 8,9 and 10 year olds. I can easily pick out the ones who went home after school and those that were in after school care. And you can almost predict what they had for Dinner, simply by behavior.

    By the time a lot of these kids get home, it is a rush to get through the evening. What should be spanned out across several hours is compacted into a few hours, to include time to unwind and eat a proper meal. It could be that this also magnifies the amount of homework a child comes home with as well.

  12. Hope April 27, 2010 at 2:58 am #

    I think ANYTHING that allows children to be more sedentary can be a contributing factor to childhood obesity, including homework. However, SPOILED children are what amaze me! Many parents in our school districts drive their children to school instead of having the children walk, bike, or ride bus transportation that is provided free of charge. There are huge traffic jams at every school at arrival and dismissal times, even though there are designated traffic patterns and drop-off points. I have a coworker who leaves work every day to drive her sixteen year old daughter home from school even though they live about TWO BLOCKS from the school. It is not a dangerous area, there are sidewalks, there is a bus she could ride. My son rides his bike to school and home every day, no matter what the weather. It is about three miles each way. He also rides it to every extra curricular activity and his social occasions unless he needs to take his cello along. He has about 3% body fat and we struggle to keep enough calories in him to keep him healthy. If all parents encouraged incidental as well as intentional movement by having children walk or bike obesity would be less of a problem.

  13. Stephanie April 27, 2010 at 11:30 pm #

    I have to agree with the guest poster…homework is not solely to blame, but it IS a contributing factor when given in abundance.

    Of course I can only speak concerning the school system in which we live. Last year, my twin fifth graders had no recess at all. None. Ten year old children…boys! They came home from school, had a snack, and got right to their homework…because if they DIDN'T they would never finish! The amount of homework they were given routinely took upwards of two hours a day and frequently they were STILL working after dinner. There was no time for extra activities like baseball or soccer. My boys are not geniuses, but they're well read and work on grade level making A's and B's. I have two older children 20 & 17. Our family has been involved with this school system since 1994, and it has ALWAYS been this way. It's miserable to never have a moment to yourself. Children should be able to run free, curl up with a favorite book, play with a friend, burn off some energy.

    This may be totally off the subject, but with regards to the comment that teachers encourage "family participation" in homework…well…perhaps from time to time that's ok. Calling out spelling words on Thursday evening or lending a hand for a science project is one thing. More often than not my children were sent home with a page full of math problems and the teacher had never even TAUGHT the lesson. She had shown them how to do the first two odd numbered problems and sent them home with instructions to "have your parents help you."

    Fine…if I'm unhappy with my sons chained to their textbooks every evening…and if I'm going to have to teach it to them anyway…may as well do it all! My twins are now homeschooled and LOVING IT! They finished 6th grade at the end of February…began 7th in March. They spend 5-6 hours a day on lessons and then?? They're FREE! The removal of all that stress has been amazing. They read because they love it! They get outside several times a day. There's plenty of time for activities. They eat what I prepare. They sleep well at night. They do their own projects and have time to explore the things that grab their attention. They no longer dread tests, studying, word problems…they look forward to the challenge. And spring testing showed that they've done quite well.

    If you're lucky enough to live in a school district where the homework situation isn't a nightmare, then count your blessings. For those children who are stuck with unending busy work every afternoon and evening…yes, homework IS adding to the problem of unhealthy, unfit kids.

  14. Abigail April 28, 2010 at 1:44 am #

    Reading through all these comments.. if you haven't been involved with the school system in the past ten-twenty years, you can't possibly fathom what's expected of students.

    Just because you're thirty some (or older) and grew up with out homework and turned out fine, isn't what it's like at all now. Six hours+ of homework per night, quizzes every wednesday, tests every friday. You have to be in some sort of sport (I'm in the marching band), an art, and contribute to your community to maybe be possibly eligible for college- but ONLY if you have about a 3.2 GPA, unweighted.

    Please don't judge the schools now based on what you grew up on. As a high school sophomore, I'm swamped. I'm procrastinating as I type.

  15. Claire April 28, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    I do not in any way agree that homework makes students obese, but for all of you who think that homework makes students more intelligent that is FRIGHTENING. I am a liensed teacher. I am not currently in the classroom, but I am trained. Homework is PRACTICE. If students go home and don't understand the concepts, don't understand the directions, and/or don't have parents and older siblings to help them when they get stuck, homework does NOT help. Plus, most standard American homework goes well beyond the amount of skill or fact repition needed to memorize, understand, and internalize. Teachers leaving comments who are acting like homework in America is properly utilized, you are either blind or one of the merely, I'd say, 15% of teachers using it correctly.

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