To combat child obesity, Michigan needs more phys ed

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.

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Tue, 04/08/2014 - 8:11am
How are they going to fit this into a school schedule that puts more and more importance in "teaching to the test?" Its a nice idea but I don't think it will make a huge difference, lifestyle on the home front with heavy snacking in front of a TV or computer screen is a big factor in obesity.
Tue, 04/08/2014 - 8:32am
Setting minimums for PE is not the answer. Many of the activities are too intimidating for some students, especially for the students that may need the activity. Maybe we should look and see if we can make the classroom more active or engaging.
Tue, 04/08/2014 - 8:54am
Thank you....I hated PE as I was the smallest in my class and the "picking for teams" made me the "team loser". Children are so mean and PE or sports seems to bring out the best in their parents as well....we need to look no further than the Little League program to see this. I do not mind the Yoga programs or the exercise classes, but PE is taught by Coaches that tend to forget that we are not all baseball or football stars. I hate to say it, but we need to get the parents to work with their family on health, rather than require the school to be the parent.
Tue, 04/08/2014 - 10:32am
Things have changed. PE, or, moreover, physical activity doesn't have to be dodge ball, baseball or basketball. There's been a great deal of creative thinking about how to get young people using their bodies. What has not and will not change is that the brain is physical and atrophies with the rest of the body without movement. No matter your intellect, you will think better if you have regular physical activity. Of course accommodations have to be made for differently-abled people. But children have to move. It's part of growing and of being human.
Doug Curry
Tue, 04/08/2014 - 9:32am
Thanks to the last two contributors for making some interesting but incorrect comments. "Teaching to the Test" is a worn out and incorrect concept. Educators have forever taught students the skills and knowledge that they are required to have in order to complete the assignments and tests that they have to pass to demonstrate the learning they have acquired. The real problem is the goals and objectives that drive the "tests". It is way past time to return to and include the skills embodied in physical education and the fine arts along with other application skills into curriculum and to test for acquired learning in those areas if we are to truly prepared our children for their future. As for the activities that are included in modern physical education they are not intimidating for the learners but are designed to be all inclusive for students of ALL ability levels. The goal of modern physical education is to give students the opportunity to gain the skills, knowledge and attitudes that will allow ALL of them to live healthy, physically active lifestyles into adulthood not to be professional athletes. It is true that the home environment plays a role in the success of ALL learning therefore schools and families must partner together so that students are success. Physical educators have worked hard to help this occur. There are programs that help make the classroom more active and they are helpful, but they can not take the place of formal dedicated physical active instruction if we truly believe that healthful living is as important as reading and writing and math. It is when we achieve strong minds and strong bodies that we set up individuals for true success in life.
David W.
Tue, 04/08/2014 - 7:33pm
A great idea! And, who is going to pay for it? Once more Lansing is going to pass a bill requiring local school districts to do something that has a significant cost without the funding to support it.
Wed, 04/09/2014 - 11:17am
Judging from the crap I see kids eating, it will take a hell of a lot more than an hour and a half of exercise per week to burn it off. How about parents that can say NO? Pass a law on that.
Wed, 04/09/2014 - 5:30pm
Here we go again, turn to Lansing to pass a law to make people do what others want them to do. Maybe I am simply frustrated with what seems to be lazy thinking that is always looking for a law. Rather then simply impore Lansing to force people to do things, why not have an open discussion about how physical activity is valuable to living well. If the children learn that PE is the only time they have to be active then what should we expect them to do when the leave school and there are no PE classes. I suspect once Mr. Maisner gets the law he wants he will quickly turn to the politicians asking for other people's money to spend on what he sees as the needs for his new law. Why isn't he asking why the kids are not active, what are the barriers to them being active, how do we help kids to make their activities in their youth a lifetime habit? Mr. Maisner seems to be only in the tell mode with no interest in what other approaches maybe or how they maybe working. I wonder if Mr. Maisner ever wonder what has happened over the past 35 years and why it brought us to this situation. I guess he can only see failure, and has no interest in success and no willingness to learn from others success. How long has been since school started limiting kids playing on their own in the school yard? How long has it been since school started taking the risk out of kids active play?
Sun, 04/13/2014 - 10:14am
Certainly not a novel idea. But what would be novel is the departure from tired and rote phys ed curriculum, supplanted with outdoor activities (running, walking, snow shoeing, pickle ball, volley ball, et al.,); and in the winter months--- social dancing! All these activities have lifelong potential. Also, they're interesting enough to ensure another generation of couch potatoes is at risk!
Catherine Parker
Sun, 04/13/2014 - 11:24am
Children need to learn wellness, not just fitness. Obesity is more closely related to diet than it is to physical activity. A whole foods, plant-based diet can prevent--and even reverse--obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. It can also increase energy levels and mental clarity. It's okay to keep some meat and dairy, but they should be at the tiny top of the food pyramid. Start with school lunch programs, then work your way into the community.
Sun, 04/13/2014 - 9:01pm
Catherine, All I have is anadotal experience. It suggests portions and activities have a grat deal of influence. Meat, even red meat, doesn't have that mush of an impact if portion control is utilized. Even unrstricted access to treats isn't a problem if portion control is followed. We do hear a great deal about diabetes and how it is present in those who are obese. I would offer that it also can be genetic and even genetics can keep the obese from have the diabetic problem. I mention this because people only need to know a few anadotal examples that differ from the standard answers to obesity and health to distrust them.
Cory Johnston
Sun, 04/13/2014 - 1:07pm
You can read other articles in this edition of Bridge about how Michigan's roads must be fixed and how good roads are better for the economy. Then go to any school and you will see cars lined up to drop off or pick up kids from school with poor or nonexistent sidewalks. Then we question why little Johnny is overweight and has poor health while we pour millions of dollars into better and wider roads so that everyone is encouraged to walk no further than from the television to the garage. How many parents are dropping off their kids so they can drive to the fitness center to exercise? Demand better sidewalks and walk your kids to school. Everyone will be healthier and we will save millions in road construction.
John S.
Sun, 04/13/2014 - 5:45pm
The CDC advises one hour of physical activity a day to include aerobics, muscle strengthening, and activities that strengthen bones. Way back in the day it wasn't an issue. Home from school, kids would be out the back door in no time to play, usually unsupervised. That's not the world we live in today. Not sure about a mandate, but I've no idea why local school districts don't try something that's known to work.
John Nash
Tue, 04/15/2014 - 9:05am
The Greeks told us a sound mind in a sound body was the ideal - nothing has changed. I would be very interested to see data regarding how many successful professional people exercise regularly compared to who do not exercise regularly. The purpose of education is to help people learn things they do not know. A very good physical education program teaches the benefits of regular exercise, the need for proper nutrition and helps children to be empowered by doing regular physical activity in a challenging and respectful way. Good physical education teachers are just like all other good teachers - and yes, unfortunately all teachers are not good - but show me a profession which can live up to that standard. I taught in a school district which had a good k-12 Physical Education program for which teachers, students and parents had a great deal of respect. We taught nutrition, the benefits of regular exercise, provided realistic fitness and skin fold standards. I cannot tell you how many of my former students (not high school varsity athletes) have contacted me and told me they just completed their first marathon and they do lots of active things with their new families. Yes, dodge ball, roll out the basketballs, pick teams - and a number of other things are very detrimental and provide no educational benefit to students. So why don't parents, school curriculum directors and school boards stop those things just like they should stop other negative classroom activities.