May 23, 2013 at 12:36 PM ET
Children need a full hour of exercise in schools every day, and not just in physical education classes, the Institute of Medicine recommended on Thursday.
Schools that have dumped education classes need to put them back on the schedule, the report recommends. They also need to help kids get up and moving in the classroom, at recess and after school, a committee of experts appointed by the Institute reported.
The panel acknowledged they are adding pressure to schools that have been forced to add days of standardized testing to the schedule, as well as hours of instruction and preparation for the tests. But the committee said children not only need the exercise for their health – they need it so they can learn better.
”Children who are more active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed, and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active,” the panel wrote.
Mark Terry says he's trying. He's the principal of Eubanks Intermediate School, with 600 5th and 6th graders in Southlake, Tex. "How can you argue with giving kidsmore afternoon exercise and to be healthier?" Terry asked.
"But say you dedicate an hour a day for some type of organized class like a PE class. That means some other classes have to be impacted." He says he's already doubling up some classes, and doesn't have the budget to hire more teachers. "If I have to go put 90 kids into agym class, that is an unsafe environment," Terry said in a telephone interview.
But his school is trying. "The music class can include dancing. it can include marching," says Terry, who is also president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. "The art teacher - I have seen her do drawings of nature so they can go out and walk around."
About 15 percent of U.S. kids are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obese children are far more likely to grow up to be obese adults, and already two-thirds of American adults are obese or overweight.
PE class needs to come back, every day, and for all grades, the panel said. “All elementary school students should spend an average of 30 minutes per day and all middle and high school students an average of 45 minutes per day in physical education class,” the report reads. Since a physical education class is unlikely to provide more than 20 minutes of real exercise a day, kids need more than that, the report adds.
“Students should engage in additional vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the school day through recess, dedicated classroom physical activity time and other opportunities,” the panel says.
A definite no-no: taking recess away as a punishment.
The experts noted that schools are under intense pressure, and may not have the time or money to add physical education. They also noted that there are safety issues and said schools need help from the federal government and states to squeeze in the recommended exercise time.
So the Department of Education should designate physical education as a core academic subject. This would not only draw attention to the issue but it would allow schools to spend the money to do it, the panel says. And state legislatures should adopt policies promoting physical education, recess and after school programs.
There is precedent for asking schools to add a variety of exercise to the curriculum, the panel said.
"Schools are critical for the education and health of our children," Harold Kohl of the University of Texas School of Public Health and chair of the committee that wrote the report, said in a statement.
"They already provide key services such as health screenings, immunizations, and nutritious meals. Daily physical activity is as important to children's health and development as these other health-related services, and providing opportunities for physical activity should be a priority for all schools, both through physical education and other options."
The Department of Education did not have an immediate response to the report.