New State Laws Take Physical Education off Bench; Health Becomes a Stronger Priority for Schools despite Federal Program's Focus

Article excerpt

Byline: Amy Fagan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

No child's behind should be left sitting on a couch.

That's the mantra in some states, where new physical education requirements aim to boost children's activity levels as well as their health and fitness knowledge.

Florida now requires that elementary school students receive at least 150 minutes of PE each week. Oregon has similar new requirements for elementary school students, along with 225 minutes per week for those in middle school.

Texas has a new annual physical-fitness test in elementary and middle schools. Illinois required daily PE for all students in kindergarten through 12th grade but allowed waivers so schools could get around that mandate. It now limits waivers to two years.

Faced with an increasingly obese nation, health and medical professionals and educators warned that children must begin healthy habits now in order to be healthier adults.

"State legislatures are working at ways that they can help out in that," said Paula Kun, spokeswoman for the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. "There's no panacea, but we're making progress."

From 1991 to 2001, the number of U.S. adults who were obese increased 74 percent, to 44.3 million. These adults are at risk for heart disease, diabetes and asthma, according to the American Medical Association (AMA).

About 15 percent of children ages 6 to 19 are overweight, according to the AMA. The AMA and the American Heart Association are working to reverse the trend.

Sheila Franklin, director of the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity (NCPPA), said reasons for the obesity problem include the replacement of physical work with machines, the rise of video games and television, the availability of fast food and the increase of urban sprawl that often prevents children from walking or biking to school.

"We've engineered physical activity out of daily life," she said.

Mississippi has taken a leadership role, health specialists said. A new state law requires all children in kindergarten through eighth grade to receive at least 150 minutes per week of physical-activity-based education and 45 minutes of health education. It also sets a graduation requirement for PE and statewide standards for health and PE instruction. …