You’ve probably heard this sobering statistic: Nearly one in three children and adolescents in the U.S. is overweight or obese. And did you know that our nation’s young people are predicted to have a lower life expectancy than most grownups today?
One of the problems is that kids are sitting more and moving less. Most spend nearly half of their waking hours in school without any scheduled physical activity time. Daily physical education (what most of us know as PE) is provided in only 4 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle schools, and 2 percent of high schools across the nation.
As a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFSN) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, I was privileged to chair the committee that developed the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Midcourse Report: Strategies to Increase Physical Activity Among Youth. We convened a tremendous team to create the report, which we released last week at the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit in Washington, D.C.
The report builds upon the federal Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans that recommend 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity for youths. It focuses on five areas where kids live, learn, and play — school, preschool and childcare, community, family and home, and primary care — and addresses how kids can fit that hour of activity into their day. It reveals what is already working and also details ways we — parents, policymakers, health care providers, school teachers/administrators, and community leaders — can help.
So, what did we learn? School is a great place to start.
There are lots of ways to fit physical activity into the school day, through enhanced PE classes, recess, walking or biking to and from school, creating before- and after-school activities, and introducing classroom activity breaks. Even in preschool, where 4.8 million American youngsters ages 3-5 spend a portion of their day, trained instructors can encourage active play and help children develop healthy habits early in life.
Happily, there are places where this is already happening. At Namaste Charter School in Chicago, for example, students enjoy physical activity during a morning fitness session, recess, PE, and in their classrooms. At Greenville, S.C.’s Legacy Charter School, students participate in at least 45 minutes of daily PE. This is more than encouraging; it’s critical, because active kids do better in school and obese kids miss more school days than their peers. Teachers also report that students enrolled in structured activity programs during the school day are better behaved and experience fewer incidents of bullying.
Yet there is a lot more work to be done, and we all have a role to play. Parents should consider forming groups or joining the PTA to talk to school principals about including more activity in the school day. Families can work together to encourage communities to create safe places to walk and play. And we all should be serving as role models for our children by getting up and being more active ourselves.
In 2007, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) committed $500 million to reversing childhood obesity by 2015. First Lady Michelle Obama has a similar goal to solve the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation. Fortunately, the needle is starting to move in the right direction. A recent RWJF report showed rates of childhood obesity are declining in Philadelphia, New York City, Mississippi, and California.
We need to keep the momentum going. That’s why the First Lady recently announced another element of the Let’s Move! initiative, called Let’s Move! Active Schools. Under this program, parents, teachers or administrators can sign up to learn six simple steps that will make their schools more active. (Learn more at www.LetsMoveSchools.org.)
So what are you going to do to get kids moving? I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions of how we all can make sure we are doing all we can to raise healthy kids.
To read the Physical Activity Guidelines Midcourse Report: Strategies to Increase Physical Activity Among Youth, and to view the “60 Minutes or More a Day Where Kids Live, Learn, and Play” infographic, visit www.health.gov/paguidelines/midcourse.
For more by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., click here.
For more on fitness and exercise, click here.