Monday, April 21, 2008

Students will get more physical education to combat obesity

Current seventh-graders will be the first batch of Tennessee kids under the new requirement

Tennessee students will have to sweat more to earn a high school diploma.

A new requirement for students to take an extra half-credit of physical education, approved recently as part of the state's sweeping high school revisions, aims to combat Tennessee's childhood obesity epidemic. About 43 percent of students in the state are obese, state officials said.

Current seventh-graders will be the first batch of Tennessee kids to do it, and Zoe Turner-Yovanovitch, 12, is among them.

"This is going to be a good thing so students can be more active," said Zoe, a seventh-grader at Metro's J.T. Moore Middle School. "Sometimes students don't have time, between school and homework, to do anything, so it's important to do it during school. I like PE because I like playing the different sports and running around."

The state is also about to approve a revised physical education curriculum, which will promote more exercise and movement than in the past. Tennessee high school students now have to take one credit of health, physical fitness or wellness education to meet graduation requirements.

State lawmakers passed a law in 2006 mandating 90 minutes of physical activity a week in schools. It went into effect this school year. That physical activity — as opposed to physical education — doesn't have to be taught and supervised by certified PE teachers and may include a walk outdoors or stretches before class.

"More PE matters," said Dr. Gregory Plemmons, medical director of pediatric weight management clinic at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.

"Many of the kids I see who are in 10th and 11th grades don't have any PE. The problem I see is, you want PE to be a quality experience as well as quantity experience. PE is often running laps. It should be fun and engaging."

That's why in Stacia Dean's PE and wellness class at Hendersonville High School, students can choose from a menu of activities, including stretching, Pilates and walking.

"I'd love to see every kid be able to have PE every semester and every day," Dean said. "It's not just helping them physically, it's helping them mentally. They do better academically. This is life-long learning, not just make them come in and play baseball."

National recommendations suggest that students in grades K-8 get 150 minutes of physical activity a week and 225 minutes in high school.

Most Tennessee students don't come close, said Susan Brotherton, PE specialist with the state Department of Education.

"Can quality physical education change the obesity epidemic? Absolutely, if the students are given time to do it," she said.

"Do we give them the time they actually need? No, we don't. We don't come close to meeting the recommended minutes nationally in most of our schools in Tennessee."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Weak Shall Inherit the Gym

The Weak Shall Inherit the Gym
By Rick Reilly
Sports Illustrated

Not to alarm you, but America is going softer than left-out butter. Exhibit 9,137: Schools have started banning dodgeball.

I kid you not. Dodgeball has been outlawed by some school districts in New York, Texas, Utah and Virginia. Many more are thinking about it, like Cecil County, Md., where the school board wants to ban any game with "human targets." Personally, I wish all these people would go suck their Birkenstocks.

Human targets? What's tag? What's a snowball fight? What's a close play at second? Neil Williams, a physical education professor at Eastern Connecticut State, says dodgeball has to go because it "encourages the best to pick on the weak." Noooo! You mean there's weak in the world? There's strong? Of course there is, and dodgeball is one of the first opportunities in life to figure out which one you are and how you're going to deal with it.

We had a bully, Big Joe, in our seventh grade. Must have weighed 225 pounds, used to take your underwear while you were in the shower and parade around the locker room twirling it on his finger. We also had a kid named Melvin, who was so thin we could've faxed him from class to class. I'll never forget the dodgeball game in which Big Joe had a ball in each hand and one sandwiched between his knees, firing at our side like a human tennis-ball machine, when, all of a sudden, he got plunked right in his 7-Eleven-sized butt. Joe whirled around to see who'd done it and saw that it was none other than Melvin, all 83 pounds of him, most of it smile.

Some of these New Age whiners say dodgeball is inappropriate in these times of horrifying school shootings. Are you kidding? Dodgeball is one of the few times in life when you get to let out your aggressions, no questions asked. We don't need less dodgeball in schools, we need more!

I know what all these NPR-listening, Starbucks-guzzling parents want. They want their Ambers and their Alexanders to grow up in a cozy womb of noncompetition, where everybody shares tofu and Little Red Riding Hood and the big, bad wolf set up a commune. Then their kids will stumble out into the bright light of the real world and find out that, yes, there's weak and there's strong and teams and sides and winning and losing. You'll recognize those kids. They'll be the ones filling up chalupas. Very noncompetitive.

But Williams and his fellow wusses aren't stopping at dodgeball. In their Physical Education Hall of Shame they've also included duck-duck-goose and musical chairs. Seriously. So, if we give them dodgeball, you can look for these games to be banned next:

Tag. Referring to any child as it is demeaning and hurtful. Instead of the child hollering, "You're it!" we recommend, "You're special!"

Red Rover. Inappropriate labeling of children as animals. Also, the use of the word red evokes Communist undertones.

Sardines. Unfairly leaves one child alone at the end as the loser -- a term psychologists have deemed unacceptable.

Hide-and-seek. No child need hide or be sought. The modern child runs free in search of himself.
Baseball. Involves wrong-headed notions of stealing, errors and gruesome hit-and-run. Players should always be safe, never out.

Hopscotch. Sounds vaguely alcoholic, not to mention demeaning to our friends of Scottish ancestry.

Marbles. Winning others' marbles is overly capitalistic.

Marco Polo. Mocks the blind.

Capture the flag. Mimics war.

Kick the can. Unfair to the can.

If we let these PC twinkies have their way, we'll be left with:

Duck-duck-duck. Teacher spends the entire hour patting each child softly on the head.

Upsy down. The entire class takes turns fluffing the gym teacher's pillow before her nap.

Swedish baseball. Players are allowed free passage to first, second or third, where they receive a relaxing two-minute massage from opposing players.

Smear the mirror. Students take turns using whipped cream to smear parts of their reflection they don't like, e.g., the fat they have accrued from never doing a thing in gym class.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Physical Education Equals Better Grades At School

Physical Education Equals Better Grades At School

On a recent afternoon at a public school in New York’s East Village, a mass of first and second graders barreled into a recreation room and charged toward a pile of hula hoops.

Even before the lesson began, the children launched into a flurry of made-up games, dances, jumps and spins. Soon, J. Alexander Nixon, a 27-year-old counselor with the Oasis for Children after-school program, brought the crowd to attention with his first challenge of the day. All the children then joined in a traditional hula spin, the first set in a 30-minute aerobic class for kids called Hula in Motion.

“Parents are more apprehensive about letting their kids play on the street these days,” said Nixon as he wiped sweat from his brow. “With this hula hoop exercise, they get a full workout.”

If the children in this group are like the majority of American children, this after-school hula-hoop class will have been the most, if not the only physically active period during their day.

Fewer than one in four children gets 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although experts now recommend one hour.

Another CDC study determined that on average, only about 7 percent of today’s schoolchildren receive any daily physical education.

Some worry that this has contributed to a national epidemic of inactivity. And since 1980, the number of overweight children has doubled, making this generation of youngsters the most overweight children in U.S. history, according to the CDC. Of these children, an estimated 70 percent will probably become overweight adults, increasing their chances for developing ailments like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and depression.

As more American children show signs of obesity, new physical fitness programs are springing up across the country despite often limited resources (the Hula in Motion program is paid for in part by parent fees and some state funding).

Fitness advocates are seeking to transform physical education into a lifestyle that incorporates physical activity, health and wellness. And while the health benefits of exercise are obvious, more experts are also pointing out that physically fit students do better academically.

Physical education classes appeared in American schools prior to World War I after the federal government mandated them for the purpose of military readiness.

During the 1980s and '90s, thanks to tight budgets and a refocusing of state curriculums, the number of physical education programs started to dwindle nationwide. More recently, local school districts came under tremendous pressure after the No Child Left Behind legislation of 2001 to pass standardized tests or face cuts in federal funding.

“No Child Left Behind came on board and suddenly the focus was on testing,” noted Phil Lawler of Naperville, Ill., who has been a middle school coach for 34 years. “Federal funding is going to be cut if they don’t get their reading, math and science scores up,” said Lawler, who is also academy director at PE 4 Life, a national nonprofit organization that promotes quality daily physical education programs.

But advocates like Lawler point to data that shows students actually do better on tests when they are more physically fit.“

If you have more active and fit kids, you are going to see positive changes in test scores,” said Dr. Retta Evans, a health education professor at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

One example that supports Evan’s assertion is a study by the California Department of Education conducted in 2002. A statewide standardized math and reading test of all fifth, seventh and ninth graders in California public schools concluded that there was a direct correlation between higher test scores in math and reading and higher levels of fitness.

“Physical exercise is the best way to optimize the brain,” said Dr. John Ratey, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “The public has been unaware of the connection.”

Despite such data, advocates say, changing people's perceptions about physical education and making it a priority will take tremendous effort.

“Many administrators have the opinion that PE stands for poor excuse for teacher,” said Nancy Bailey, a health and physical education teacher in Kansas City, Mo.

Programs like PE 4 Life are attempting to change that by educating school districts and community groups through fitness “academies" based on a model devised by Lawler.

PE for Life’s teaching philosophy focuses on wellness and sports rather than athletic skill by grading students on how long they stay in their heart rate zone, rather than how well they throw a ball.

PE 4 Life was instrumental in securing the creation of a national Physical Education for Progress grant program, which has been used to enhance physical education programs across the country. Sixty-three grants of up to $250,000 are awarded each year for training teaching professionals in modern health and wellness-based physical education and for acquiring modern fitness equipment.

Beyond grants, physical education programs in public schools are established at the state and local level. Most states do not require physical education, leaving local districts to decide how much PE to provide and how to pay for it.

For now, programs like New York’s Oasis is working to keep children active and fit through a positive healthy environment, which instructors hope will benefit them beyond the exercise class.

“We hope to arm our children with the tools and confidence to succeed in life” said Rachel Lynn of Oasis. “Obviously, one of those is physical fitness.”

Nixon, the Oasis counselor, says that even though children may not yet recognize the benefits of twirling a hoop, they respond with gusto.

“They light up," he said. “It gives them confidence which helps them all around.”

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Child Behavior: Too Much TV for your Child?

Child Behavior: Too Much TV for your Child?
by Dr. Noel Swanson

Television is a fact of life, and there are few families that don’t have one, or that never watch one. Television can also be educational, informative, and uplifting. But, let’s face it - the vast majority of what is shown on TV is pure drivel - it is far from uplifting or educational, and often portrays behavior that would be quite unacceptable in most social circles. Even worse, it often portrays that behavior as normal, or even desirable.

Furthermore, time in front of the TV is time NOT spent in physical activity, nor in conversation. In other words, watching television is a largely passive, solitary, activity that undermines healthy social behavior and promotes obesity and other “couch potato” disorders.

Television certainly influences behaviors. If it didn’t, advertisers wouldn’t spend so many billions of dollars on their tiny, 30-second slices of it.

Ask any parent and they would most likely want to throw the television out of the window, but that doesn’t serve the purpose. You can’t throw the baby with the bathwater. So, let’s be sensible about it and take positive steps to limit your child’s exposure to it. Here are some suggestions:

1. To begin with, you will need to cut down on your own TV watching. If you spend 4 hours a day watching soaps and other nonsense, you can’t expect your child to be selective and watch television in a limited time. Parents have to become good role models for their children. You can influence the impressionable minds of your children by setting good examples rather then by preaching to them.

2. If not TV then what? First for yourself, and then for your children, find alternative activities that are healthy and pro-social. The obvious ones are taking up some sports or hobbies - football, hockey, swimming, karate, dancing, painting, scrap-booking, collecting stamps, coins, or butterflies, model railways, woodworking or cross-stitch - the list is endless. But, yes, you actually have to DO something to make this work! If you really just want to relax and chill-out - what about reading a good novel, or even a graphical novel (aka comic book) while listening to your favorite music?

Take a visit to your local recreation center and/or adult education center and see what programs and classes they have on offer. Make a deal with your child that if he attends one of his choice you will offer some incentive.

3. Television watching timings will have to be regulated. You can speak to your child and mutually agree to avoid watching TV at specific times, such as before school, or after 9 pm, or during meals. Fix a day of the week as a regular TV-free day and dedicated to outdoor activity.

4. You may even think of cutting down on your channel subscriptions. This way you will watch only what has been pre-booked. You save time on aimless channel surfing, and the family can jointly decide the programs that are actually worth watching.

5. You can draw up a chart to use television time as a reward for other activities, such as completing household chores, or getting homework done.

6. Watch television together - and then talk about what you viewed. You can discuss the program itself - its values, its quality of acting and scripting - or you can discuss the commercials. Doing the latter is a very valuable exercise as it helps children to be less naive and gullible when it comes to advertising.

See if you, as a family, can figure out what strings the adverts are trying to pull to get you to want and buy their product. Do the toys and foods live up to the hype when you actually go and buy them?

7. Remember to be reasonable and fair while turning off the television. Wait till the show is over and give some reasonable warning.

8. If you can afford to cancel your expensive cable and satellite subscriptions, you will be able to use the extra money for other activities, and there will be less programs to watch. This will do a lot of good to you as a family. You will be able to go out together. You will enjoy a home-cooked pizza on a special family night instead of the usual couch potato routine.

As with all things, moderation is usually the key. Be selective. Find the good programs and watch them. The rest of the time, do something more active or more sociable. Within a month or two you will wonder how you (and your kids) ever found the time to watch so much of it.