As the Executive Director of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition I am profoundly aware of the importance of making physical activity and nutrition accessible and affordable for all Americans, especially children. This is a multifaceted problem, and I’ll address several dimensions of this issue in this discussion.
Availability of facilities that provide healthy, affordable food in our communities is a necessity. If we do not have facilities within our neighborhoods where we can obtain fresh fruits and vegetables at affordable prices, then kids are going to continue to buy the Twinkies. We’ve got to incent our retail establishments to be able to come into communities. I think we’ve seen success where we’ve put forth the effort in this area.
The school environment has a strong influence on whether physical activity and nutrition are accessible to children. Kids spend a good part of their days, weeks, and years in school. We’ve got to continue pushing for policy change as it relates to physical education and school meals.
In many cases we are going in the wrong direction. Physical education is being cut out of schools, and it is so very important. Many states are passing policies mandating physical activity. This time could be recess, before or after school programs, or physical education. The unintended consequence we are hearing from school officials is “we are doing our 15 minutes of recess and then kids are walking between classes, so we are just going to cut PE because nobody said we have to do PE.” Physical education is a curricular area. It is an educational area that should be taught by a certified physical education teacher. It is not recess.
When advocates like myself come in and say we need more physical education, what we are really saying is we need more quality PE.
We know it can be done. Often we hear that test scores are the priority and we only have so many minutes in each school day, but we have examples of schools that have made it a priority where kids are getting 30 minutes of physical education every day and their test scores are increasing. For more information regarding this, reference the Centers for Disease Control and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education report on academics and physical education. There is an increasing body of research that shows definitively that kids who are physically active perform better academically. It can decrease their delinquency and behavioral issues, as well as help them concentrate so they tend to perform better on tests.
Has your organization worked to improve access to the health of America’s children through physical activity and nutrition? How? To learn how you can get involved, visit www.presidentschallenge.org and become a President’s Challenge Advocate today.
Note: The President’s Council’s name was recently changed by Executive Order from President Obama to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition (PCFSN) in recognition of the fact that good nutrition must go hand in hand with fitness and sports participation in order to achieve a healthy lifestyle.