In the United States, less than 25% of school age (k-12) children participate in 60 minutes of physical activity daily as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). The scientific literature emphatically presents that regular physical activity in children is associated with optimal physical and mental health, as well as cognition and academic performance. Further, inactive overweight or obese children are 80% more likely to carry that through adulthood, compromising their lifelong health and longevity. Children are a vulnerable, dependent, malleable, precious population for whom adults must take responsibility—are we doing that?
One might argue that parents and caregivers are working endlessly to feed, clothe, and shelter their children, allowing for little time for attention to daily physical activity opportunities. This would be a fair argument for many segments of our population; luckily, we have a public school system that can and should be an extension of our goals and concerns for our children. Currently, only about half of U.S. high school students attend any physical education classes, while less than 4% of elementary schools and middle schools require daily physical education and 4% of high schools. You may think, well, daily physical education might be a lofty goal, regardless of the data that suggests that regularly physically active students have better grades in math, reading and writing, have improved standardized test scores, favorable classroom behavior, are less likely to engage in risky behaviors, less likely to experience suicidal ideation or develop addiction. The CDC also states that increasing physical education time in school will positively impact grades, presenting that even when the time is taken from other areas of the curriculum, there is no downturn in academic performance. Might we find several days a week of physical education in our public-school systems---not really. A recent research survey found that physical education is offered three days a week in only 15% of elementary schools, 9% of middle schools and 6% of high schools in the U.S. To turn the tide on these distressing statistics, action needs to be taken.
It is the responsibility of those in charge—parents, caregivers, grandparents, healthcare providers, school administrators, teachers, policy makers etc., to persistently advocate for what is best for the precious cargo that is our children. Children, just like adults, are not machines that we can drive towards optimal behavior and academic performance without taking into consideration all that we know about a growing, functioning human. When we know better, we can do better—let’s do better.