Schools Should Take The Lead In Increasing Kids' Activity

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Physical Activity at School

The American Heart Association recommends that schools lead the way to ensure that all children and youth participate in adequate physical activity during the school day. The scientific statement "Promoting Physical Activity in Children and Youth: A Leadership Role for Schools" is published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

"Children and youth spend a substantial number of their waking hours in school, so it's important that schools provide adequate physical activity" said Russell R. Pate, Ph.D., chair of the writing group and a professor of exercise science at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C.

"Although schools are under increasing pressure to increase student scores on standardized tests, the recent dramatic rise in the prevalence of obesity in children and adolescents in the United States suggests that there is a pressing need for the nation's schools to systematically and effectively promote behaviors that will prevent the development of overweight," the authors write.

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During the past 20 years obesity rates in U.S. children and youth have increased markedly, the writing group said. Today, among children ages 6-11 years old, 15.8 percent are overweight (>95th percentile body mass index [BMI] for age) and 31.2 percent are overweight or at risk for overweight (> 85th percentile BMI for age.) Among adolescents ages 12-19 years old, 16.1 percent are overweight and 30.9 percent are overweight or at risk for overweight.

While most states require that students receive minimal amounts of physical education (PE), and daily physical education is recommended by many entities, the rapid increase in the prevalence of obesity in young people has occurred at the same time as other alarming trends:

  • Between 1991 and 2003 the percentage of high school students enrolled in daily physical education decreased from 41.6 percent to 28.4 percent.
  • Physically active transport to and from school has declined from previous generations. Today only one-third of students who live within one mile of school walk or bike there; and less than 3 percent of students living within two miles of school walk or bike there.

In addition, the statement notes that only 8 percent of elementary schools, 6.4 percent of middle/junior high schools, and 5.8 percent of senior high schools provided daily physical education or allocated the recommended amount of time per week (150 minutes for elementary and 225 minutes for junior and senior high schools), according to a year 2000 study.

"It's important that kids adopt active lifestyles," Pate said. "The list of negative health outcomes associated with physical inactivity

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