Physical Fitness, P.E. and Recess: Our Kids Need Your Help Getting Active
By the age of 16 I weighed over 220 pounds. All my life, from the time I was a small child I struggled with my obesity. Then, one day I made a change. I went from one mile on the treadmill to running marathons and, in the process lost over 70 pounds. Today, just like me, nearly one in three children in the U.S. is considered overweight or obese. The rate of childhood obesity has nearly tripled over the past thirty years. Obesity puts children at increased risk for heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure and dramatically increases the risk for Type 2 diabetes. Obesity related health care expenses and losses in productivity cost Americans more than $100 billion each year. Over 300,000 people die of obesity-related illnesses each year and will soon overtake smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. In addition to the physical health effects, obesity takes a toll on children both emotionally and psychologically. Studies show that obese and overweight children are often socially ostracized and can lead to low self-esteem, decreased academic performance and impeded social development. Experts agree that inactivity combined with poor eating habits are at the root of these problems. While we come together here, on this blog, to improve the food our kids eat, it is but one piece of the puzzle.
Federal guidelines recommend 150 minutes of physical activity each week, yet less than 30% of U.S. elementary kids reach this goal. However, even this number can be deceiving as researchers have stated that the increased activity level of preschool and kindergarten age children artificially inflates this number. In reality, far fewer children, on average, are performing adequate physical activity. This explains why, after the age twelve, the percentage of kids achieving the recommended amount of physical activity plummets to only 8%.
Schools, unfortunately, are not taking enough action to combat this problem. Physical education classes in elementary schools are rapidly vanishing and, recess periods, where available, are wholly inadequate in providing children the recommended physical activity. In a 2006 study, the most recently published by the U.S. government, ONLY 3.8% of our nation’s elementary schools provided a daily physical education class during the school year. This number was down from 8% of schools in 2000. Only 14% of elementary schools provide physical education classes at least 3 days per week. Add to these abysmal numbers the fact that of those elementary schools that do offer physical education classes, even if only one day a week, an overwhelming 68% of them teach only dodgeball or bombardment! It is clear our children are not being given the opportunity to reach their physical activity requirements through school physical education classes.
On a slightly more positive note, school recess numbers are surprisingly on the rise, albeit very slowly. While only six states mandate that schools provide recess, this number is up from only two states in 2000. Further, a majority of elementary schools, 79%, provide daily recess for all grades in the school, though it is not clear how long the average recess is, and represents an almost 8% increase from 2000. Despite the fact that the majority of schools provide some form of recess and the number of such schools is on the rise, it is not enough. Research has shown that during an average 30 minute recess, children receive merely 3 to 6 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA). Thus, over a regular five day school week, kids, on average, bank only 15 to 30 minutes of their recommended 150 minutes of physical activity. Further research suggests that children need outside encouragement and prompting to achieve the recommended amount of physical activity. Recess alone is not the answer to our children’s fitness needs.
It is more important now than ever before to take action to get our nation’s youth active and, once again, put physical activity back in the schools and we need all of YOU to make it happen! This fall I have the honor and privilege of running in the 2010 ING New York City Marathon as a part of Team for Kids (TFKs), a community of adult runners from across the country and around the world who race to raise funds to support the New York Road Runners Youth Programs.
NYRRs Youth Programs provide free and low-cost running based fitness and nutrition programs to schools and after-school community centers, promoting physical fitness, good nutrition, character development and personal achievement. Currently, NYRRs Youth Programs serve over 105,000 children a week in hundreds of schools and community centers in all 50 states and in the Cape Town region of South Africa. NYRR has set a goal to serve an additional 10,000 children during the 2010-2011 school year. During the 2009-2010 school year, NYRR kids generated over 50 million minutes of physical activity and recorded over 2 million miles ran! In 2009, TFK raised $4.2 million for NYRR Youth Programs. By 2015, NYRR hopes to raise $10 million annually to be able to serve 500,000 children each week.
If you do but one thing, I ask you to take the time to support a wonderful grassroots organization that is making a difference in our children’s lives. No matter how small, every donation is vital to supporting this cause. No child should be forced to endure the harsh existence of a childhood spent overweight and unhappy, as I know all too well.
Be a part of something bigger – do something today to make a change. Visit http://www.HayleeRunsNYC.com/ to donate today or to learn more about Team for Kids, New York Road Runners or the Youth Programs.