Feature Article - June 2007
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Back to School

School Programming

By far the most popular program currently provided at school facilities is youth sports teams, provided at nearly three-quarters of schools. This is followed by sports tournaments and races, fitness programs, swimming programs, sport training and individual sports activities. When respondents were asked what programs they plan to add within the next three years, the most popular options were fitness programs, educational programs, and nutrition and diet counseling, followed by daycare or preschool programs and environmental education. And many respondents said their top concern was fitness among the nation's youth, citing a tendency of kids to be "lazy," "sedate" and "overweight."

For some time now, there has been a trend to drop physical education and recess from schools across the nation, a situation that is likely having a negative impact on kids' waistlines, and ultimately their health too.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about two-thirds of those in grades 9 through 12 do not engage in recommended levels of physical activity. Research published in the Journal of School Health shows that only 6 percent of middle schools provide physical education. And the Task Force on Community Preventive Services, an independent panel of experts making recommendations to the CDC, included school-based physical education as one of six recommended interventions to encourage people to get more active.

"Schools have given up recess and physical education time for more academics," Miller said, adding that our current approach is a far cry from the approach taken during the Cold War, when Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy encouraged physical fitness programs and physical education to ensure Americans—particularly those would become soldiers—were on par with the Communist countries.

"I think we need to have a paradigm shift to say in order to have an increase of our academics, we also have to look at the physical side of things," Miller added. "It doesn't do you any good to be an expert in math in your 20s when you also have heart problems. We have high schools in Lubbock that don't provide any physical education at all. People say that the kids are going to be physically active on their own, often by going out for sports. But what's the percentage of kids that go out for competitive teams?"

In some cases, Miller added, schools do introduce challenges that require kids to walk or run a certain amount of time, but these efforts often are expected to take place after school, rather than as a structured part of the school day. "It makes it problematic when the parents need to get involved," he explained. "It's a worthy item, but it's kind of a challenge to get that involvement."