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Educators Bike 150 Miles to Spotlight Need for Health and P.E. Programs

By guest blogger Gina Cairney

Physical activity and health education can play an important role in children's lives, establishing habits that will impact them as adults, which is why some educators and principals decided to bring attention to the issue in Washington last week.

Health and physical education teachers and school principals from Pennsylvania and neighboring states biked from Harrisburg, Pa., to Washington in the "Capital to Capitol ONE Ride," on a three-day, 150-mile journey, according to a press release, to bring awareness to the issue of childhood obesity and the importance of having a comprehensive health and P.E. program as part of the regular school curriculum.

The ride is in its second year, and is an initiative of the Pennsylvania State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, an education association focused on promoting quality programs and providing professional development in disciplines like P.E. and the performing arts.

The goals of the ride were three-fold, according to Kimberley Razzano, one of the ride's organizers:

  • Raise awareness of the negative impact of childhood obesity;
  • Advocate for positive legislation towards childhood obesity prevention and discourage any future cutting of K-12 health and P.E. programs; and,
  • Raise funds to support education programs

Although this advocacy bike ride was focused on health and P.E. programs in Pennsylvania schools, it coincides with a more national initiative called the Promoting Health for Youth Skills in Classroom and Life (PHYSICAL) Act, introduced in February by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall from New Mexico.

The act, according to the senator's website, would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to include health and P.E. as core subjects.

If you're familiar with ESEA, it's currently long overdue for a reauthorization, and my colleagues Alyson Klein and Michele McNeil have covered it extensively over at the Politics K-12 blog.

"With increased childhood obesity rates and diabetes, the need for this bill is greater than ever," Udall said on his site, and the act would make health and P.E. eligible for Title I and II funding, using federal tax dollars to expand these subjects throughout the school districts.

Currently, P.E. and health programs, like arts and music, are at risk of being cut (or have been cut) from some schools due to a lack of funding.

Although the act would make health and P.E. core subjects in the schools, it wouldn't mandate these subjects be taught in every school, according to Carly Braxton, the senior manager of advocacy at the Reston, Va.-based American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

The act would just make the funds available for those states who need the money to fund the subjects, Braxton said, "we would still need the state to mandate the program from a local level," such as creating the schedule and selecting the materials.

There's a lot of data and research available that suggests quality health and P.E. programs can boost academic performance.

The Institute of Medicine suggested students should have the opportunity during school hours to participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day, which might be a promising obesity-prevention strategy if schools could provide that kind of time.

A survey from KidsHealth, which I wrote about before, even shows that a majority of parents and educators want mandatory health and P.E. in schools.

Cutting these types of programs would be going against the research, Razzano said, and school districts, states, and the federal government would be "ignorant" to cut them "because it'll cost them more in the long run," when these students become adults and need constant medical attention.

Prevention is key.

The goal of P.E, programs, Braxton said, is "to build a lifetime of healthy habits."

"We would love to see every child in a quality P.E. and health program. What parent wouldn't want to see their kids be healthier?" she asks.

Correction:An earlier version of this post mentioned that Redskins' tight end Niles Paul met with the cyclists in Washington. Paul did not attend the event.

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