If childhood obesity has risen to the level of a national crisis, why are schools cutting physical-education classes?
For all First Lady Michelle Obama’s efforts, some K-12 schools are sacrificing P.E. to budgetary concerns.
A report released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that half of the high-school students surveyed said they had no physical-education classes in an average week.
In San Francisco, only 20 percent of public elementary schools meet the California state requirement of 20 minutes of physical activity for the kids each day.
In New York City, 20.5 percent of public schools had no physical-education classes at all in the week in which CDC auditors visited the schools for their biennial study.
This is an old story only recently writ large by statistics. When schools feel the financial pinch, P.E. and the arts are the first classes on the cut list.
Supporters of the arts have made their case by linking children’s participation in painting, drawing, music and creative playtime to intellectual development and classroom performance.
Supporters of physical education could take the same approach, and I’m sure many have.
The CDC asserts that greater physical activity may improve factors that directly affect academic performance, such as concentration and maintaining attention.
If you want the scientific specifics, here’s how increased physical activity helps the brain:
• Increased blood flow,
• Cerebral capillary growth,
• Growth of nerve cells in the hippocampus, which is the center of learning and memory,
• Neurotransmitter levels,
• Development of nerve connections,
• Increased oxygen to the brain,
• Density of neural network, and
• Brain tissue volume.
With all the recent well-placed concern about bullying, the CDC notes that physical education “reduces feelings of depression and anxiety and promotes psychological well-being.”
People between six and 17 years old should participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The CDC survey found that 29 percent of high-school students took part in at least 60 minutes on all seven days prior to responding to the survey. Only 31 percent of respondents said they attended P.E. classes daily.
Some teachers and administrators blame the reduction in attention to physical activity to a governmentally enforced increase in attention to children’s performance on standardized tests.
This change in educational priorities has come under fire for a variety of other reasons.
But it stands to reason that people who are already being forced to make do with less can only do so much before they reach physical and psychological, as well as fiscal, breaking points.
And, of course, schools should not cut English, history and science to accommodate physical education and the arts.
While there are no easy answers, it’s certainly true that growing fresh vegetables in the White House garden while children are deprived of opportunities to romp and play and learn skills that will enhance both their physical and intellectual lives sends a contradictory message.