One-third of U.S. children are overweight or obese. This has led to more and more kids developing the diseases of adulthood, like diabetes and high blood pressure.
Yet, the place kids spend a lot of time doesn’t offer much physical activity: school. Cash-strapped and time-crunched schools often slash recess and physical education.
For our Be Well health series, ideastream’s Anne Glausser has this look at exercise during the school day.
First Lady Michelle Obama isn’t the first in the White House to focus on child health and wellness.
FILM CLIP (with music underneath): Here’s a demonstration of a warmup drill that everyone will enjoy… (instrumental music stays underneath next line)
In the 1960s, JFK launched a nationwide public health campaign to get kids in America moving.
His administration partnered with ad men to create films showing how schools could build in fitness routines.
FILM CLIP (with music underneath): These fellows are doing their daily dozen and having fun doing them…
Today that kind of daily activity may be a reality in some Ohio schools, but for others it’s, at best, an aspiration.
Recess isn’t required, and there’s no set amount of time that kids have to be active during the school day.
HALKO: Kids are getting minimal exercise in schools. There are inconsistencies in how the schools have provided opportunities for kids to be physically active.
Martha Halko works in obesity prevention at the Cuyahoga County Board of Health and helps schools figure out how to fit more exercise into the school day.
But it’s an uphill battle, against limited funds and competing academic priorities.
HALKO: There have been school districts that have been supported to be rebuilt without playgrounds.
Halko and others argue cutting out playgrounds and P.E. is a bad idea.
She says kids learn better when they have time and space to play:
HALKO: I think what’s lacking though is the general knowledge base amongst faculty and principals on the true link between physical activity and academic performance. There’s research that shows if children not only eat well—eat breakfast—but are physically active they do better in school.
Some schools do see the value in this, and they’ve come up with creative ways to get kids moving more.
One of them is Brookridge Elementary, in the Cleveland suburb of Brooklyn.
KINDERGARTEN CLASS SCENE:
HVIZDOS: Ok, show how we do it…(music beat starts and stays underneath)
Kindergarteners in Kelly Hvizdos’s class take a quick break from their lesson, and circle round the room to the beat of a special “movement” CD.
HVIZDOS: Alright, listen. (Voice on the CD says, “Gallop!”) Show it! Get those horses going!
(Sound of kids galloping and stay underneath)
The kids are pretty into it.
(Sound of kids galloping, saying, “Yay! C’mon cowboy!” then fades out)
Schools should be an national focal point for obesity prevention, says the Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit research group.
Its 2012 report recommends schools give students time to be physically active during the school day, for a total of 60 minutes.
And that extra time pays off: a recent study among fifth graders found more gym time lowers the chance of obesity without harming test scores.
Still this may seem like a lot, to administrators juggling other priorities.
Brookridge Principal Amy Cruse says the key is finding the right balance.
CRUSE: We certainly do go above and beyond but it’s important and we see that our kids are healthier and making good choices and they can attend and focus better when they’ve had some of that physical release.
Brookridge P.E. teacher Denise Sinko is the force behind the school’s health initiatives and works with classroom teachers.
She helps them find ways to fit in “activity bursts”—or as she calls them, “10 minute tickers.”
SINKO: You know when you’ve got a class of 28 eight-year-olds just staring at you with blank stares, instead of yelling at them, get ‘em up and get them moving, get the blood flowing, oxygen going to the brain again, and they’ll be more attentive.
She got Hvizdos started on the movement CDs; she’s helped classes make up their own dance moves; I even saw a group of 2nd graders doing yoga.
GLAUSSER: It seems like you’re creating a culture change here. SINKO: I hope so. That’s the plan, that’s the plan. I mean the statistics are for real and I think people are just blowing them off, you know about the obesity rates, and it’s like “wow.”
Brookridge’s efforts around physical activity will be recognized by the state for the first time this year, on the school report card.
Schools will be graded on how well they address certain P.E. standards.
But that carries little weight in a school’s overall grade.
Wendy Stoica is with the Ohio Dept of Education.
STOICA: Basically it’s just a reporting mechanism—it’s not going to be part of the overall evaluation of the report card or performance of the school district.
Still, advocates for a healthier school day say it’s a good start.