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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Shape of the Nation Report illustrates need for physical fitness DC SCORES provides

For the last three weeks of school this December without DC SCORES, thousands of youth in the city's public schools are back to a sobering reality:

A mere 45 to 60 minutes of organized physical activity at school ... per week.

That's just one telling statistic from the Shape of the Nation Report recently released by the National Association of Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) and the American Heart Association (AHA).

While it's nice to hear about childhood obesity rates dropping for the first time in 30 years in cities such New York and Los Angeles, it's hard to imagine that trend continuing when you consider the paucity of organized physical activity at schools not just in DC but throughout the country. 

Here are just a few of the takeaways from the report:
  • Only six states require physical activity in every grade k-12.
  • Almost 50% of U.S. students do not receive PE in an average week.
  • Only 26 states require some form of student assessment in physical education (can you imagine the backlash if a state — gasp! — didn't test every student on math and writing every semester?).
  • Even more disturbing: Only 14 states require school districts to perform physical fitness assessments.   
  • And recess is required for elementary school students in only nine states.
This isn't to say there haven't been improvements. For instance, twice as many states as in 2010 (28 vs. 14) require physical fitness grades to be included in students' GPAs. But the report makes it clear that students getting exercise is not a priority of states' school systems despite the fact that studies have shown there to be a link between a student's health and their performance in the classroom.

In the District of Columbia, guidelines are no better than in most states. As mentioned, students in grades K-8 are required to receive just 45-60 minutes of physical activity each week. That falls woefully short of the 60 minutes of exercise per day recommended for kids ages 6-17 by the Department of Health and Human Services in its first ever Physical Activity Guidelines (2008).

Here are some other takeaways from the report about the District:
  • DC does not require elementary schools to provide daily recess (but if one does on, say, a Tuesday, that can count as the 45-60 minutes of exercise provided that week!).
  • There is no minimum weekly requirement of physical fitness activity in schools; students just need one PE credit to graduate.
  • Classroom physical activity breaks (proven in some cities to boost academic performance) are not required.
The conclusion to be drawn from the report is clear: providing physical activity in schools — at least in 44 states, including DC — is far from a priority. While progress has been made in making school lunches healthier and changing what vending machines can sell to students — thanks in large part to Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative — the other side of growing healthy, strong youth has been neglected.

That's why programs such as DC SCORES that provide a fun, organized outlet through which kids can get the exercise they need continue to be so vital, especially for youth in communities who otherwise lack opportunities to play on a sports team.

We've said this before and we'll say it again: During the 12-week DC SCORES season each spring and fall, we provide 270 minutes of exercise each week through soccer. That's six times the amount required in schools and just about satisfies the guidelines put forth by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

That's 270 minutes of week. 

We hope that reports such as the Shape of the Nation lead to more requirements around providing adequate physical education for youth. We would love to see more states follow the lead of New York, Vermont and the four others that mandate PE for all students K-12. 

But for now, we'll continue to provide what's lacking during the school day for as many District students as possible.

After all, childhood obesity affects all of us. You, your family, and your neighbors are all helping to pay the estimated $344 billion that the national crisis will have cost this country by 2018.

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