Encourages physically active learning to combat childhood obesity

To the Editor:

As the vice chair of the legislature’s Children’s Committee, I have had the unique opportunity to intensely follow public policy conversations and changes that are impacting our kids. In a response to the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, we passed legislation last year that created the Child Obesity Task Force.

The task force brings together lawmakers with child, health and nutrition advocates from across the state. Our charge is to develop policy initiatives that get at the root of child obesity and begin to change the curve.

Most of us know the basics;. We can reduce obesity through physical education and better food choices. The question is how dose government encourage families and children to make better healthy living choices and help them if they are not?

Our most recent task force meeting focused on improving physical fitness for our kids. School physical education classes lay the foundation for a healthier life and future success but don’t offer an intensive enough curriculum to permanently change kids long term health. Actual recommended minimum physical requirements for elementary school children is 150 minutes per week, and 225 minutes per week for grades 6-12.

Our schools can’t possibly meet that requirement and still cram all the academic requirements and teaching time required. Only 4% of the elementary schools in the country actually meet this recommended goal and Connecticut ranks consistently one of the highest states in terms of actual PE hours per student.

With all this talk about test scores and common core we failed to notice that studies show that students perform better when they are physically fit. Improved physical fitness also leads to better self-discipline, improved judgment, reduced stress and the self-confidence needed to succeed. Physically fit kids are also better at working in team environments and goal setting. Why? Because science has shown us that exercise changes the brain at a molecular level and helps grown healthy brain cells. We are actually healthier when we exercise.

Schools cannot do it alone and if we value our kids and their health, communities and parents need to be a shared stake holder helping our kids learn to incorporate physical exercise into each day their entire life. This means incorporating physical education above and beyond physical education classes in school.

One new program involves incorporating “physically active learning” into a child’s academic day. Schools are encouraging a walk around the building before the first bell, short two-minute breaks for stretching and movement or use of the stairs and extra hall trips in between academic classes.

Since learning about the “physically active learning” model, I appreciate more fondly my daughter’s elementary school, which regularly stopped the kids for quick yoga jaunts mid-morning and mid-afternoon to refocus their energy.

If we team up, parents, schools and communities, we can put a bigger emphasis on physical fitness as an aspect of life long health. Physically active learning should become an expectation for kids and a lifestyle for adults and possibly we can begin to tackle the complex obesity issues facing our state and country.

 

Kim Fawcett

State Representative

Fairfield

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