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Research Support for Richard Simmons?

For more than a year now, Richard Simmons, the flamboyant fitness guru, has been pushing for a bill that addresses the need for more physical education in schools. Most recently, he took his case to the Hill this summer, speaking to the House Education and Labor Committee.

Under discussion at the hearing was the Fitness Integrated with Teaching Kids—or FIT Kids—Act, which, as described in this Ed Week column, would require states and districts to report on the amount and quality of physical education they offer their students.

Simmons might get more support for his cause in a new study in the Summer 2008 edition of the journal American Secondary Education. Derrick Mears, an assistant professor of teacher education in the department of physical education, health, and recreation at Western Washington University, found in his study of 361 high school students that mandating more physical education "may have a positive impact on increasing physical activity levels of young adults."

I doubt that officials in Beijing have read the study, but perhaps they were inspired by China's showing in the Olympics last month when they instituted a new requirement for daily PE classes for primary and middle school students beginning this year. This China Daily story suggests that the move by city education officials is aimed at combatting a growing obesity problem among young people in Beijing.

That's a problem we usually associate with American children, but apparently their peers in China are catching up. According to the article, about 14 percent of Beijing residents ages 7 to 22 have weight problems. It doesn't say what constitutes a problem, but the figure is slightly lower than what is estimated for young people in the U.S.

I wonder if Simmons will have an easier time making his case if he can point to China—a competitor often perceived as doing a better job in schooling its children—as tackling the issue more aggressively than we are.


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