Resources for Increasing Physical Activity in Children and Youth

Article excerpt

The number of children and youth who are overweight has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. According to the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 years are obese (CDC, 2010). In addition, data from the CDC's YRBS 2009 survey indicate that children of color have higher obesity rates than their Caucasian counterparts. These data paint a clear picture of a problem that must be addressed.

What can be done to change this trend? Most experts recommend a comprehensive approach to activity promotion that involves schools, communities, universities, government, and numerous other parties. The focus of this article will be on using schools and non-curricular activities that can increase physical activity in children and youth during the school day.

Virtually every community has a school, making it an ideal location and cornerstone for programs designed to increase the physical activity levels of America's youth. Research suggests that increasing physical activity during the school day will not interfere with student learning (Tomporowski 2003) and, combined with other strategies, may help America deal with a severe health crisis in childhood obesity. To this end, this article is intended for anyone interested in school-based programs designed to increase the physical activity of school children. Obviously physical education is the optimal institution for physical activity promotion; however, the focus of this article is to provide strategies and ideas to supplement, but not replace physical education programs. Listed below are various activities/ideas that schools can use to increase the physical activity level of their students.

Physical Education Curriculum

The P-12 physical education curriculum is changing to focus on lifetime physical activities, such as swimming, walking, bicycle riding and tennis, and provides a hierarchy of skill and activity development. At the elementary level students learn basic fundamental motor skills which they then combine into specialized skills at the middle and high school grade levels. Throughout the P-12 curriculum, teachers use differentiated instruction to allow all students to develop their full physical potential.

Celebrate with Physical Activity Time

Administrators and teachers use physical activity, in place of pizza or other food parties, to celebrate school events and reward children for exhibiting positive behaviors.

Common Planning Time

Schools use a common planning time for teachers in a certain grade or subject. While teachers meet to plan and develop their week's activities, students participate in physical activities in the gym or outside, weather permitting. Educational aides and other school personnel participate as activity coordinators and supervisors to ensure student safety and participation.

Family Involvement

Children come to value and enjoy physical activity by watching the adults in their families participate in physical activity. Parents and care-providers are encouraged to participate with their children in various physical activities, such as walking, swimming, riding bikes, rollerblading, and playing active games. Schools are communicating with parents in various ways (i.e., newsletters, emails, websites, etc.) in an effort to help parents understand the role they play in helping their children become more physically active.

Family Fun Nights

The physical education teacher sponsors a night when families are invited to school for an evening of movement and fun. Silly, fun, and non-competitive activities are planned for families with the emphasis on fun. This is a good opportunity for parents and children to participate in activities and discover the fun of moving together.

"Feelin'" Good Mileage Program

This is a program offered each morning to give students the opportunity to get fit, have fun, and release their morning energy so they can focus in the classroom. …