At a time when budget constraints are forcing schools to cut programs, two lawmakers have reintroduced a bill that would strengthen physical education programs in schools throughout the country.
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) and U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) yesterday reintroduced the Fitness Integrated with Teaching Kids Act (FIT Kids Act), which would require all school districts and states to report on students’ physical activity, including the amount of time spent in required physical education in relation to the recommended national standard. According to the American Heart Association (AHA) – one of the organizations endorsing the bill, it ensure appropriate professional development for health and physical education teachers, fund research to examine the link between children’s health and their academic achievement, and recommend effective ways to combat childhood obesity and improve healthy living and physical activity.
“This bill gets to the simple truth: in order to develop a healthy mind, you need a health body,” said U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), co-chair of the Congressional Fitness Caucus. “Providing increased physical education in public schools will give every child an opportunity – regardless of their background – to learn healthy habits and get moving. We will see the benefits in their math and reading test scores, get to the root of the obesity epidemic, and get kids on a healthy path early in life. I hope that Congress can consider the importance of physical education in our schools when they take a closer look at education reform later this year.”
“To ensure that our kids will lead healthy and active lives, we need to help them develop good habits early on,” said Senator Tom Harkin, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. “This bill would combat rising rates of childhood obesity, which have become a pressing public health crisis that we must address. Kids who get more exercise throughout the day are more fit, more focused in the classroom, and get better sleep – also a welcome benefit for their parents! This bill empowers schools, teachers and parents to help improve our kids’ health.”
“With childhood obesity rates that have tripled over the last few decades, we must make every effort to help children reduce their risk for heart disease, stroke and other life-threatening illnesses,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of American Heart Association. “More than 80 percent of adults support daily physical education yet such programs have been on the decline in many school districts. The FIT Kids Act would help educate parents about the quality and quantity of physical education in their child’s school.”
“America’s children receive too little opportunity to be physically active, and that is a major contributor to the nation’s obesity epidemic, said Penny Lee, Executive Director of the Campaign to End Obesity Action Fund. “Lack of physical activity for children has a negative effect on our military preparedness, their ability to learn and their overall wellness. Now is the time to drill down on solutions which is what this legislation provides. It allows for more information to parents, educators and communities so they recognize the gaps in activity and have the opportunity to address them ¬-- a major step in the right direction.”
“The National Association for Sport and Physical Education commends Senator Harkin and Congressman Kind on introducing the FIT Kids Act which will strongly support our common goal of increasing the quality and quantity of physical education opportunities in the U.S.,” says NASPE President, Lynn Couturier of State University of New York at Cortland. “Physical education, an essential component of a quality, well-rounded education, not only teaches students how to achieve and maintain lifelong healthy habits but contributes to their academic success.”
“We are proud to support Senator Harkin and Congressman Kind on their reintroduction of the Fit Kids Act,” said NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell. “This legislation furthers our shared goal of eliminating childhood obesity and encouraging children to lead healthy lifestyles.”
In addition to the AHA, the FIT Kids Act has been endorsed by the following organizations: The American Diabetes Association, National Association for Sport and Physical Education, Grocery Manufacturers Association, National Football League, Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, YMCA.
Childhood Obesity in AmericaChildhood obesity in the United States has reached epidemic proportions. Recent studies indicate that 17 percent of 6 to 11 year olds and 17.6 percent of 12 to 19 year olds are considered obese. Furthermore, 33 percent of 6 to 11 year olds and 34 percent of 12 to 19 year olds are overweight; these rates have roughly doubled since 1980.
Children and teens who are overweight are much more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, and various forms of cancer. This is a costly expense to our health care system; obesity related medical costs totaled $147 billion in 2008.
Researchers suggest that the childhood obesity epidemic is largely due to a decline in regular physical activity and a diet high in unhealthy foods. A lack of regular physical activity not only hurts a child’s health, it can also affect his/her academic development, as research also shows that healthy children learn more effectively and are higher academic achievers.
Increasing physical activity is a critical component of any initiative to combat childhood obesity and promote the health of students. Unfortunately, many schools are being forced to cut back on PE programs because of lack of resources and competing academic demands and testing. Between 1991 and 2003, enrollment of high school students in daily PE classes fell from 41.6% to 28.4%.