Nearly one in three children in Michigan are overweight or obese, threatening the health of many young Michigan residents and the healthy future of our state. In the past 35 years obesity in Michigan children aged 6 to 11 has increased almost five-fold.
One way to address the childhood obesity epidemic would be to expand the quantity of quality physical education being offered in grades K-8 in Michigan. The Michigan school code currently has no minimum requirements for K-8 physical education. As a result, there is a huge disparity in the amount of physical education being offered from district to district, and our children are paying the price.
Healthy Kids, Healthy Michigan (HKHM) -– a statewide coalition dedicated to reducing childhood obesity – supports the passage of the H-1 substitute to House Bill 5196, which would establish a minimum requirement for physical education in grades K-8. The bill currently is before the House Education Committee. If passed, the measure would require students in grades K-5 to have at least 90 minutes of physical education class time each week for the entire school year, as well as 60 additional minutes of physical activity each week during recess and other school activities. Grades 6-8 would be required to have 45 minutes of physical education class time every school day for at least one semester. These new requirements would make physical activity and education a priority, allowing students to learn more about how to lead healthy lives.
While some would say that being physically fit is a personal responsibility, it is important to recognize that it is a learned behavior. We don’t expect our children to show up at school already knowing how to read. Similarly, we shouldn’t expect them to know everything about physical activity, nutrition and lifelong health without adequate instruction.
Physically fit students perform better academically. A Chicago Tribune article reported that second- and third-graders who participated in 90 extra minutes of physical activity per week performed better on spelling, reading and math tests and gained less weight over the next three years. According to a study in the Journal of School Health, physically fit children scored better on standardized math and English tests than less fit children of the same age. A study from the Institute of Medicine reported that children who are more active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed and perform better on standardized tests than children who are not as active.
It is important to emphasize that 21st-Century physical education curricula are not your mother’s or father’s “gym class.” Not unlike a math or science curriculum, they follow specific lesson
plans with students learning and demonstrating competencies that are measurable and aligned with national standards. Comprehensive, standards-based physical education curricula are designed by some of the best minds in kinesiology, motor development research and instructional design. Provided with an appropriate amount of time in a quality physical education curriculum, Michigan students will gain the knowledge, skills, competence and confidence to be active for life.
I encourage lawmakers to pass these physical education requirements so that our children can begin developing the tools they need for lifelong health. It would be a critical step in the right direction for Michigan’s students for generations to come.
Mike Maisner is vice president of active communities for the Michigan Fitness Foundation and chair of Healthy Kids, Healthy Michigan, a coalition of more than 150 organizations dedicated to reducing childhood obesity in Michigan.