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Student Fitness: What Can Schools Do?


American students are bigger, slower and sicker than ever before. This epidemic has prompted schools to take an active role in reversing the sedentary lifestyles of many young people.

The percentage of students who attend daily physical education classes dropped from 42 percent in 1991 to 28 percent in 2003, according to a 2006 American Heart Association and National Association for Sport and Physical Education report.

There is little argument that this erosion of PE will have a lasting impact on students. Overweight and obesity, influenced by poor diet and inactivity, are significantly associated with an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, joint problems, and poor health status, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Kathy Henderson, director of School and Community Initiatives at The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, believes, however, that PE can make a comeback.

“PE really gets pushed aside for what people view as more important subjects,” Henderson said.

She explained, however, that PE has a direct impact on student achievement.

“With physical activity, there is actual evidence that it improves academic performance. Although who cares that a student is brilliantly smart if he dies at 27 from some obesity-related illness? At the end of the day, it comes down to what we prioritize as quality of life.”

One program that takes the disappearance of PE seriously is the NFL Network’s Keep Gym in School effort. In conjunction with all 32 NFL teams, Keep Gym in School provides funding, manpower and continuing education to ensure schools can continue to offer effective PE.

“What we’re really trying to do is improve PE facilities around the country in middle schools and get kids excited about fitness by making it not something that is a requirement, but something that is actually fun to do,” said NFL Network VP of Marketing and Promotions Joel Chiodi.

The “fun factor” that Chiodi said his program incorporates would help make PE more appealing to students, according to The Style Network’s “Too Fat for 15: Fighting Back” cast member Carsyn.

“My biggest hurdle would probably be, I’m not a big fan of running at all,” she said. “I was an athlete and I got injured, and it literally hurts me to run, so [the show’s trainers] taught me how to do other exercise that gets my heart rate up. When I go home, I look forward to taking a hip hop class or a biking class.”

While Keep Gym in School makes a significant investment in improving the state of PE facilities in America, it is limited in that it reaches only four schools each year. A health and fitness program with broader coverage is the NFL’s Play 60, which attempts to change the way PE is taught.

“We have two major in-school programs under the Play 60 umbrella; one is the NFL Play 60 Challenge with the American Heart Association,” Jessica Sultzer, NFL Marketing Manager for Fan Development and Strategy, said. “It is a team-based curriculum that provides non-gym teachers the chance to download materials and get kids involved in short activity breaks in the classroom, as well as give them physical education homework.”

The other in-school program Sultzer highlighted focuses on nutrition.

“The other program is with the American Dairy Council and is called Fuel Up to Play 60,” Sultzer said. “That’s more focused on kids creating health and wellness committees in their school and making recommendations for ways that they can make healthier food choices.”


Related resources

Heart Health Programs Move Into Schools
New PE Trend Stresses Fitness and Fun
Students Pumped Up Over Fitness Rooms


Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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