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Editorial: More PE

If you grew up in 1960s, you may fondly — or not-so-fondly — remember “Go, you chicken fat, go!” the song used to provide musical accompaniment to calisthenics in elementary school gym classes across the country.

Thankfully times have changed — but the need for children to take part in physical education hasn’t. And we’d argue that it has become even more critical today.

Consider this from the Bogalusa Heart Study: Compared with 1973 to 1974, the proportion of children 5 to 17 years of age who were obese was five times higher in 2008-2009.

That certainly sounds like times have changed for the worse.

But this snapshot of America doesn’t have to stay this way.

The Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, has come out with a report recommending that schools provide at least 60 minutes of physical education a day. The report even goes on to say physical education should be a core subject, right up there with reading, writing and arithmetic — for the youngest students all the way through high school.

Here’s the report’s rationale: “Because the vast majority of youth are in schools for many hours, because schools have important infrastructure and are critical to the education and health of children and adolescents, and because physical activity promotes health and learning, it follows that physical activity should be a priority for all schools, particularly if there is an opportunity to improve academic achievement.”

With childhood obesity on the rise — according to the American Heart Association some 23.9 million kids between the ages of 2 and 19 are overweight or obese — you would think that everyone would get behind the need for schools to pay more attention to physical education as one of the main components in fighting this epidemic.

Unfortunately, though, the time allowed for physical education, arts and recess have been cut back, especially since the passage of No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 and the pressure on schools to see reading and math scores improve.

PE, art and recess time were sacrificed to provide for more emphasis on academics.

That’s not the kind of sacrifice we should be making.

If there is going to be a turnaround, there has to be more time for structured physical education as part of the school day, and this includes before and after school as suggested in the report.

It’s time to sing a different tune when it comes to taking action against childhood obesity.

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