A new report from the Institute of Medicine says schools should be responsible for helping pupils engage in at least 60 minutes of vigorous or moderate intensity activity during each school day.
No more than half of American youth meet current evidence-based guidelines of at least an hour of vigorous or moderate intensity physical activity daily, according to the report, which was released today.
"Because children are in school for nearly half of their waking hours, the committee recommends a Whole-of-School approach to strengthening physical activity in schools," said Harold W. Kohl III, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology and kinesiology at The University of Texas School of Public Health, part of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). "The approach would target physical education, active commuting, before and after-school activities, sports and other opportunities to help children meet the 60 minutes per day of vigorous or moderate intensity physical activity."
Kohl chaired the committee that wrote the report.
The "Whole-of-School" approach would encourage activities such as walking or riding a bike to school while discouraging inactivity. Recess, lunch breaks and frequent classroom breaks should be included and not taken away as punishment, according to the report.
Although many state laws require some physical education, the report urges the U.S. Department of Education to include physical education as a core subject. The report says that quality physical education can potentially influence body mass index (BMI) and other important health outcomes in youth.
"Physical activity is so central to children's health, development and learning that schools should naturally be involved with physical activity for students," Kohl said. "Research shows that physical activity helps children think faster, improves their cognitive performance and helps them reach their academic potential."
An estimated 17 percent of children in the United States are obese. Since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled. Childhood obesity can lead to hypertension, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and breast and colon cancer.
The report also says education and public health agencies should monitor physical activity and physical education in the schools to provide a foundation to plan, develop and implement physical health policies that could give families and government officials the data and knowledge to help support the "Whole-of-School" approach to physical education.
Parents are the first line of defense to help promote healthy lifestyles for their children, Kohl said.
"Parents can also do many things to help their kids become more active," Kohl said.
"First, they can talk to the principal at their child's school to ensure that all children have access to physical education, and they can be a good role model for their children by being active every day with their kids."
The study was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The entire study is available online: Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School.
Materials provided by University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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