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Georgia to Add 30 Minutes of Physical Activity to Elementary Schools

Georgia plans to add 30 minutes of physical activity to the school day in all elementary schools, the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health announced last week during a University of Georgia health conference.

Only Mississippi has a worse childhood obesity rate than Georgia, Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald said at the inaugural State of Public Health Conference on March 21. In the state's most recent fitness test, only 16 percent of the roughly one million students tested were able to pass all five components (body-mass index, aerobic capacity, flexibility, push-ups, and curl-ups), while 20 percent couldn't pass even one of the five, according to the commissioner.

To rectify that, Fitzgerald recently met with the state Department of Education and agreed to a plan to bring 30 extra minutes of physical activity to every elementary school in Georgia, with the work to begin in the 2013-14 school year.

[UPDATE (March 29, 3:30 PM): Schools won't be required to follow this plan, according to a spokesperson from the Georgia Department of Education. It's strictly on a volunteer basis, as the department is not creating a rule or new policy requiring all schools to add the recommended amount of daily physical activity.]

"We need every single segment of the society involved in this," Fitzgerald said. "This is a huge problem that has to do with lifestyle issues, that has to do with changing not only what we do, but what children do, what their parents do, what the school does, and ultimately, what the society does."

The University of Georgia is chipping in with this effort by conducting online training for teachers in how to get students physically active for 30 minutes a day, according to the commissioner.

While budgetary concerns and high-stakes testing present obstacles for schools hoping to add physical activity to the school day, some schools in the state are already finding creative ways around those concerns, said Therese McGuire, health and physical specialist with the Georgia Department of Education, to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. McGuire suggested incorporating physical activity into academic learning, such as biology teachers having children jump up and down and measure their heart rate to learn about elevated heart rates.

You can see Fitzgerald's full speech at the State of Public Health Conference below, courtesy of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation (the childhood obesity portion begins around 11:15):

Georgia isn't the only state to experience such a low success rate on recent physical fitness exams. Back in 2011, only 31 percent of 5th, 7th, and 9th graders in California were able to pass all six components of their state's fitness test, which state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson took as a call-to-action.

Georgia does have more reason to be concerned about childhood obesity than the average state, though. It had a childhood obesity rate above 20 percent as of the summer of 2011, one of only 10 states to do so, according to the 2011 "F as in Fat" report from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In the 2012 version of the "F as in Fat" report, Georgia was projected to have an adult obesity rate above 50 percent by 2030 if obesity continues growing statewide at its current rate.

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