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Groups Link Childhood Obesity to Lack of PE Classes in School

The Short of It

A coalition of health and civil rights groups in California says the current lack of gym classes for elementary and high school students is against the law and leading children down the road to obesity.

The Lowdown

The coalition filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights Enforcement, asking for California schools to meet the standards that are already in place, monitor the progress and withhold federal grants and monetary allocations if the schools don't make the changes.

"Time and again, there are new academic requirements placed on schools, and physical education gets placed at the back of the pack," says Dr. Harold Goldstein of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. "Kids pay for that with their health."

California schools are required by law to schedule elementary students for 20 minutes of physical activity per day, and high school students get 40 minutes daily.

The coalition says the situation is the worst at low income and minority schools, and not getting enough exercise is a catalyst for Type 2 diabetes and low academic performance in minority children. They say it's a civil rights violation, against the separate-but-equal issue raised in the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954.

Paula Kun, senior director of marketing and communications for SHAPE America, an organization of health and fitness educators, says she's not sure if it's a lack of money or priorities making the schools fail to meet the federal physical guidelines. But, she thinks schools should explore before- and after-school programs that offer physical activity as a way to meet their goals and fight childhood obesity.

"What we're suggesting is we still want children to have instructional phys ed, but we also know the realities of it," Kun said.

The Upshot

When I was in school, we had physical education classes every day. It was a chance to burn off energy, socialize with friends and learn how to work as a team by playing games, like softball and soccer, with classmates. I feel bad for the kids who don't have this opportunity and have to sit behind a desk for the majority of their school day.

If your kids aren't getting PE classes at school, you can incorporate physical activity into your evening schedules. After dinner, take the dog for a walk as a family, go for a bike ride, toss a football around in the yard or join the local fitness club and participate in the classes. Be proactive!

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