With one in three U.S. children overweight or obese – and an even higher percentage of children in California – the Institute of Medicine is asking schools to step up and do more to keep children physically active throughout the day.

In a report released Thursday, the Institute called for schools to provide at least 60 minutes of physical activity for students a day, a regimen that could include before- and after-school activity and movement breaks in the classroom, as well as vigorous physical education classes. The Institute, an independent organization established as the health arm of the National Academies, also asked that physical education be deemed a core subject.

“Schools have been asked for years to provide critical health services for kids – nutrition, screenings, and vaccinations – and the time is now to add physical activity to the list,” said Harold W. Kohl III, chairman of the committee that wrote the report and a professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health. “The evidence now is compelling that physical activity is not only good for health but good for cognitive performance.”

While educators widely agree that physical activity is a good thing for students, finding the money, equipment, space, and time for physical education classes – the cornerstone of activity for students of all abilities – in California public schools has been difficult. A 2012 report by Shape Up SF found that 80 percent of elementary schools in San Francisco Unified School District failed to meet the state mandated 200 minutes of physical education every 10 school days.

“It’s very important that the kids are active,” said Eric Heins, vice president of the California Teachers Association. “The problem comes with the impact of testing on P.E. time — that’s where No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, the testing madness and prepping for testing, has led to a focus on language arts and math to the exclusion of almost everything else, including arts and P.E.” He added, “Add that to the loss of resources in last five years and it’s very easy to see why P.E. has been shunted to the side.”

 

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