Improving Public Health through Early Childhood Movement Programs
Garcia, Clersida, Garcia, Luis, Floyd, Jerald, Lawson, John, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance
Early childhood is a unique period of life, a time when children are developing physically, emotionally, intellectually, and socially. Providing a movement development program at this early age enables children to acquire fundamental motor skills and the feeling of competence in movement. Once in place, these skills serve as the foundation for building more complex motor skills later in life. Early development of competence in movement has the potential to create a healthy habit of physical activity participation.
While learning motor skills is rewarding in itself, it also has significant health benefits. Research has demonstrated that virtually all individuals will benefit from regular physical activity. The Surgeon General's report on physical activity and health concluded that moderate physical activity can substantially reduce the risk of developing or dying from heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, and high blood pressure (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 1996). If more Americans were physically active, our health care expenses would be reduced and the quality of our lives would improve.
Common sense suggests that happy and successful experiences early in life predispose people to enjoy physical activity. If that is true, school administrators, early childhood educators, motor development specialists, and physical educators have a tremendous opportunity to influence the health of the next generation by providing movement program opportunities to young children.
This article discusses how movement programs can help young children develop fundamental movement patterns and healthy, active lifestyles while learning cognitive and psychosocial concepts. In addition, it describes specific techniques and approaches that educators can use to promote physical activity. These techniques can give children positive, developmentally appropriate experiences with the ABCs of movement skills, thereby inspiring continued participation in and enjoyment of physical activity.
Public Health Goals for Physical Activity
In January 2000, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) launched Healthy People 2010, a comprehensive, nationwide health promotion and disease prevention agenda, which calls for Americans to increase their daily physical activity (USDHHS, 2000). Looking at the current level of physical activity, there is reason for great concern.
A significant portion of the United States population is sedentary. Forty percent of the adult population reported that they engaged in no leisure-time physical activity, while children and adolescents reported that they ride a bicycle on 2.4 percent of all trips two miles or less (USDHHS, 2000). As a result of our lack of exercise, too many of us are at risk for cardiovascular disease and other diseases. The problem is made worse by our being overweight and eating unhealthy diets. According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP, 2000), the percentage of overweight and obese children has more than doubled between 1980 and 1994, with 10 percent to 15 percent of children and adolescents being overweight. Sixty percent of five-to-ten-yearold obese children already have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and 25 percent of obese children have two or more risk factors (NCCDPHP, 2000). Young people are at particular risk for becoming sedentary as they grow older (President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, 2001). Even among children aged three to four years, those who are less active tend to remain less active after the age of three than most of their peers (Pate, Baranowski, Dowda, & Trost, 1996). Viewed together, these statistics are quite alarming. Therefore, encouraging moderate and vigorous physical activity among youths seems essential.
Why are people inactive? No one knows the answers for sure. However, Barnett and Merriman (1991) have identified three misconceptions about early physical activity and motor skill development that may be partly responsible for the pattern of physical inactivity and the health problems our youth and adult populations are experiencing today. …