Do Kids Need More Time for Gym Class?

Over the past 30 years, advances in technology and changes in lifestyles have left many adults and children living more sedentary lives, sitting in front of televisions, computers, video games and mobile devices. During that time span, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled. Nearly one in three children is overweight or obese. Cuts in federal spending for education combined with competing academic standards are making gym classes a low priority in schools. To stop the rise in childhood obesity, strong physical education programs, lifetime physical activity and healthy food and beverage choices should be modeled at school and home.

Childhood Obesity

According to the American Heart Association, nearly 10 million children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered obese. Some health experts estimate that by 2015, 75 percent of adults will be overweight, with 41 percent considered obese. Almost one in four children don't participate in any free-time physical activity. The typical American youth spends about four to five hours a day watching TV, using the computer or playing video games. According to First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign, if childhood obesity is not solved, one third of all children born in 2000 or later may suffer from diabetes later in life, while many others may face chronic obesity-related health problems such as:

  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • cancer
  • asthma

Recommended Exercise

The American Heart Association recommends that elementary-age children take part in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day 1. It is reasonable for children to get at least 30 minutes of that time in school. Nationally, it is recommended that elementary students participate in physical education for 150 minutes per week, and middle and high school students participate in gym classes for 225 minutes per week.

Lack of Gym Class

The lack of gym class in many schools across the country exacerbates the problem of childhood obesity. Ninety-two percent of elementary schools don’t have daily physical education classes and less than a quarter of high school students take daily physical education classes, notes the Get Sweaty website.

By the Numbers

Several foundations and campaigns, such as the Clinton Foundation, Let's Move! and the American Heart Association, list the sometimes surprising facts and statistics about childhood obesity 3. Of all U.S. deaths from major chronic diseases, 23 percent are linked to sedentary lifestyles. A recent study showed that the plaque buildup in the neck arteries of obese children is similar to the levels seen in middle-age adults. The US military reports that 27 percent of young Americans are too overweight to join, and around 15,000 potential recruits fail their physicals every year because they are too heavy. The indirect cost of obesity, such as missed work days and future earnings losses, have been estimated at $56 billion per year. Children treated for obesity are roughly three times more expensive for the health care system than children of normal weight. In addition, severely overweight people spend more on health care than smokers.

How Gym Class Can Help

A physical education program that involves valid fitness, cognitive and affective assessments with the appropriate equipment and facilities can improve the well-being and health of students. It is also recommended that physical education classes require students participate in moderate to vigorous physical activity for at least half of the gym class. Schools should not allow waivers or substitutes for physical education so students can opt out of gym and take other classes or standardized tests.

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