Move It

The Financial Case for Dodgeball: Why America Needs Gym Class

One bill will restore PE and health classes in America’s schools. It’s a smart, bipartisan way to invest in improving the nation’s long-term health.

I generally remember school physical education, PE, as a being a pain in the posterior. Literally and figuratively. Most of the activities were either dominated by a handful of true athletes, or they were just lame. Nevertheless, it was required, and at least it was more fun than studying algebra or photosynthesis.

And it made sense. Even if many kids were burning thousands of calories from activities after school, there were certainly some who were not. PE was one way of ensuring that every kid was getting some exercise. And some of us (not naming names) also benefitted from the opportunity to release some of our pent-up manic kid-ness outside the classroom, rather than doing so inside the classroom and earning another trip to the principal’s office.

Even without data, it’s fairly obvious that a minimum engagement in exercise for kids during the school day makes sense.

With the data, it’s a crime there is little physical education in most schools today:

• One in three of our children and teens are overweight or obese.• Thirty percent of elementary-school kids are not getting the recommended one hour of activity a day.• Only 10 percent of high-school students get enough physical activity, and 27 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds are too overweight to serve in the military.

Kids today, just like adults, are more sedentary, glued to videogames and every tech gadget with a screen. And we are all paying the costs as obesity-related health-care expenses skyrocket.

Schools are where our kids spend the most time. They are the first line of defense in the battle against obesity. Yet only about half of our schools now offer PE, and the average PE budget per school is just $750.

Technology may be the key to improve physical fitness among our students.

The 60-year-old President’s Challenge, a fitness test that (embarrassingly) compared your athletic performance on sit-ups, push-ups and the dreaded V-sit with that of your classmates—creating public winners and losers—is now gone.

This year, the President’s Youth Fitness Program was introduced nationwide. At the core of this still-voluntary program is a focus on teaching lifetime fitness for good health for every child, not just performance for the athletic stars. Kids are engaged with more positive experiences with movement, and parents are invited to partner in the process with information on activities that improve overall health. Instilling confidence, teaching lifetime skills, setting personal goals and leveraging technology and tools like Fitnessgram to assess and track progress against evidence-based criteria are key.

But PE must be returned to school curriculums as a core subject so schools have the option of using federal Title 1 and Title 2 funds to pay for this health education and physical education.

A bill (Physical Act, S.392, H.R. 21260) is pending before Congress that would make both health and PE core subjects again, allowing schools to apply for federal funding for this critical need. The act does not increase taxes, create a new program, or mandate a curriculum.

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This is worthy of bipartisan support. Investing education dollars in PE in our elementary schools will save us money in the long run as we battle the ravages of diabetes and other obesity-related diseases.

With technological advances, legislation, and effective public-private partnerships like first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move, there is a real chance that our kids will live longer, healthier lives. We can no longer afford to be inactive.