As committee work on No Child Left Behind reauthorization approaches, U.S. Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI), Zach Wamp (R-TN), and Jay Inslee (D-WA) today joined the American Heart Association, educators, and kids to urge the Education and Labor Committee to make physical education a priority in the bill by holding schools accountable for moving toward a national goal for physical education.
Reps. Kind, Wamp, and Inslee recently introduced the "Fitness Integrated with Teaching Kids (FIT Kids) Act" (H.R. 3257) that would combat childhood obesity by modifying No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) to strengthen physical education programs throughout the country.
"This bill gets to the simple truth: in order to develop healthy minds, you need healthy bodies," said U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) who is a member 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 urge the Education and Labor Committee to make this a priority and integrate the FIT Kids Act' into No Child Left Behind."
The FIT Kids act would measure schools on their progress toward meeting a national goal for required physical education recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control of 150 minutes/week in elementary schools and 225 minutes/week in middle and high schools. The bill would also engage parents and the public by requiring all schools, 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.
In addition, the FIT Kids Act would support professional development for faculty and staff to integrate physical education into everyday academic curriculum, and authorizes a study and pilot program to support effective ways to combat childhood obesity.
"The statistics on childhood obesity are staggering, and we need to get them going in the other direction," said U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), founder and co-chair of the Congressional Fitness Caucus. "Research shows that healthy children learn more effectively and achieve more academically. The FIT Kids Act would ensure a strong emphasis on physical education to help bolster academic performance and provide students with the physical activity and education to lead healthy lifestyles."
"A recent University of Washington study showed that nearly a quarter of the Evergreen State's eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders are overweight or obese," said U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA). Even more shocking is that Washington state has been ranked as having one of the lowest youth obesity rates nationwide. We can and must do better for our kids. As Congress works to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, we need to include provisions to ensure every child has a fair chance at health, just like the law now aims to give all children a fair chance at learning."
The concern over lack of physical activity is widespread. The American Heart Association recently collected more than 18,000 signed postcards from advocates across the country urging Congress to integrate physical education into No Child Left Behind. The postcards were presented to the bill's co-sponsors at the event.
"We should be alarmed that our children are developing diseases that traditionally have been associated with adults," said John Ring, M.D., American Heart Association Director of Policy. "If we don't provide quality physical education in schools, children won't learn an important part of what they need to know to reduce their risk for heart disease and stroke. The FIT Kids Act addresses the childhood obesity epidemic with sensible solutions that should be integrated into No Child Left Behind."
"Physical education teachers have witnessed a growing problem within our profession that has reached epidemic proportions," said Cindy Hess, physical education teacher at Highland Elementary School in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. "Many of our students are overweight or obese and it's frightening. The FIT Kids Act' could reverse this trend by ensuring that schools provide quality physical education to help children develop the skills and confidence they need to be active for life."
"Schools face significant barriers to improving access to physical education, health education, and healthy foods," said Jill Carter, Wellness Coordinator for the Boston Public Schools and a co-author of Planet Health, an interdisciplinary curriculum for teaching middle school nutrition and physical activity that was developed by the Harvard School of Public Health. "While academic and wellness priorities should not compete for resources and time, they often do. We know that school-based programs like Planet Health can work within academic frameworks and prevent obesity. And now we need the federal legislation and funding outlined in The Fit Kids Act to establish quality physical education and health education as priorities for schools."
Planet Health is a nine-year-old, evidence-based health and nutrition curriculum that is designed to fit easily into existing math, science, social studies, language arts and physical education curricula. The curriculum was recently featured in the cover story of US News and World Report because studies have demonstrated that Planet Health (PH) is effective at preventing childhood obesity and disordered eating, while also enjoying the enthusiastic support of teachers, administrators and students. Nearly all teachers reported that PH was a positive addition to their curriculum and was effective in teaching academic as well as health specific material.
Finally, the High Flyers, a group of students from Holy Trinity School in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, performed a jump-rope demo to highlight the benefits of increased physical activity in schools. Since the team began, the High Flyers have demonstrated before thousands of students, teaching the importance of good nutrition, physical activity and staying tobacco-free.
The FIT Kids Act has been endorsed by the following organizations: The American Heart Association, American Stroke Association, National Association for Sport and Physical Education, Afterschool Alliance, American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation, American School Health Association, Healthy Schools Campaign, National Association of Health Education Centers, National Association for County and City Health Officials, National Recreation and Park Association, Obesity Action Coalition, Researchers Against Inactivity-related Disorders, SPARK, Shaping America's Health, Trust for America's Health, American College of Sports Medicine, and the YMCA.
Childhood Obesity in America
Childhood obesity in the United States has reached epidemic proportions. Currently 25 million children in America are obese. The childhood obesity rate has tripled since 1980, and continues to rise. It is estimated that by 2010, twenty percent of children in the U.S. will be obese.
Researchers suggest that the childhood obesity epidemic is largely due to a decline in regular physical activity and a diet high in empty and fat-laden calories. 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 the most important 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%.
For more information, see the recent Trust for America's Health Report, "F is for Fat." The report is available at: http://healthyamericans.org/reports/obesity2007/