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use nclb to improve child health
addressing the obesity epidemic
by lucy lediaev

I just received an e-mail with a link to Richard Simmonds web site, where he is soliciting support for the "Fitness Integrated with Teaching (FIT) Kids Act, H.R. 3257, which would modify the "No Child Left Behind Act" (NCLB) to strengthen physical education programs throughout the country.

This bill adds a requirement for physical education to NCLB. Elementary schools would have to provide 150 minutes of physical education per week and middle and high schools would have to provide 255 minutes per week.

Whatever you think of Richard Simmonds (and I'm inclined to think of him as a bit of a nut), both his heart and head are in the right place on this issue.

Every day we open the newspaper, listen to the news, and read stories on the Internet about the sorry physical condition of kids in the United States. Parents drive their kids to school for safety; green spaces for outdoor play are disappearing from our cities; and kids are locked out of school playgrounds after school hours because of liability issues and no money for supervised programs.

Inner city kids sit in their homes because they lack safe places where they can play and exercise. Supervised athletic programs offered by the YMCA, AYSO, Little League, and other programs are out of reach for many, because their parents cannot afford needed uniforms and equipment and don't have time to transport their kids to these activities. Nor do they have the time or energy to act as volunteers in these programs--something normally expected of parents of participants.

Affluent families address the lack of physical education in school by paying through the nose for gymnastics, dance, soccer, baseball, and other programs so that their children get adequate physical exercise. They also are more likely to have time for outdoor activities with their families, or to provide a nanny or other adult to watch children at play outdoors.

So, not only are our poorest kids disadvantaged when it comes to academics, they're also disadvantaged when it comes to physical activity. A television set or a video game may provide a safe form of recreation for an apartment dwelling latchkey child while the parents work away from home. Parents may discourage their children from outdoor play for fear of gang and other criminal activity in the area. So, after sitting in school all day, these kids come home and plant themselves in front of a television set.

Clearly, not only our calorie heavy diets, but the lack of easy access to outdoor spaces with appropriate play and athletic equipment and the absence of physical education programs in our schools, are contributing greatly to the national epidemic of childhood obesity.

Congress has seen fit to use NCLB to drop many unfunded, unreasonable, and unattainable academic requirements on schools. Let's ask them to use this new NCLB bill to add a reasonable, in fact critical, requirement for the health of our nation's kids. Healthy kids learn more quickly and over time cost us all less in health care and rehabilitation costs.


A freelance writer and full-time grandma, Lucy Lediaev retired recently from a position as web master, tech writer, and copy writer in a biotech firm. She is enjoying retirment more than she ever dreamed and is now writing about topics that are, for the most part, interesting and fun. She also has time to pursue some of her long-time interests, such as crafts, reading, sewing, baking, cooking, and the like.

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lisa r
8.24.07 @ 8:54p

Lucy, I hear you and I agree with you--up to a point. Certainly physical education courses tend to be the first ones to be cut, along with other courses that help turn out well-rounded children, like art and music.

However, I think attaching a physical fitness requirement to NCLB creates more headaches than it solves. As a writer and designer of science curriculum, I have encountered first-hand the results of NCLB. Because of the stringent requirements for literacy and math, other courses such as social studies and science are already being pared down. If NCLB is modified to include the PE requirement, I guarantee you that the time won't be retrieved from the many hours already devoted to math and literacy. They'll be taken from social studies and science.

Our students already are suffering in those areas as a result of cutbacks in time allotted for those courses. There is no question that we have a fitness crisis in our kids, but addressing it through NCLB isn't the answer if it means even less science and social studies. As a nation, we already lag behind many other countries in science readiness, and if we've learned anything from the events of the past 7 years, we can't afford to cut back social studies, either.
NCLB already has some serious flaws that have got to be fixed before something else is added to the mix.

Having conducted professional development in a number of schools over the past 3 years, I can tell you where the schools can, and should, clean up their act from a fitness standpoint---the school cafeterias. Their offerings are abysmal. Breaded chicken this, breaded chicken that, pizza, french fries, lackluster vegetable offerings, and salad bars that are a joke. School dieticians claim that these choices are the only way to get kids to eat. Please. Even children are attracted to food that looks good--bright colors, variety, and freshness. Iceberg lettuce ad infinitum is hardly an inducement to eat salad. Neither are pale tomatoes. Give students foods that stimulate their appetites, and they'll eat them.

lucy lediaev
8.26.07 @ 10:54a

I too am concerned about the paucity of science and social studies. In fact, I'm shocked to discover how many 20 and 30 somethings don't even have a sense of US geography, much less international geography.

I also agree about school lunch menus. My almost six-year-old granddaughter enjoys going to fine restaurants with Mom and Dad and will, at least, try new things. Last night she ate chicken curry for dinner. She's not crazy about cooked veggies, but she does eat fruit and a small amount of attractively presented raw veggies. By the time she's in middle school, I expect she will be turned off by the school cafeteria's offerings, while eating almost everything at home.

If I thought there was any way to get PE back into the schools without NCLB, I'd support it any way I could. But, unfortunately, the schools are doing only what they are mandated to do these days. It is a dilemma.

By the way, this belief in the need for PE comes from a 63-year old whose only "C" grades were in PE. I hated PE, and now I wish I had had more of it as I struggle with an exercise program in my latter years!


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