State urged to double up on P.E. time in schools
Time constraints and staffing issues are a source of concern
STORY SUMMARY »
Students in public elementary and middle schools should spend more than twice as much time in physical education classes as they do today, according to several health organizations concerned about childhood obesity in Hawaii.
The groups are urging the state Board of Education to raise P.E. to 150 minutes a week for elementary students and 225 minutes for middle-schoolers.
"You got to get to the kids early, that's why we are focusing on the early years," said American Heart Association spokesman Don Weisman. "If you don't instill the motivation or the desire to do physical activity at a young age, you lose them."
About a third of Hawaii public school students consider themselves overweight, and seven out of 10 high school students don't get enough exercise, state data show. Nationally, an estimated 9.9 million people ages 6 to 19 are considered overweight, the Heart Association says.
FULL STORY »
Several health organizations want the state to more than double physical education time in public elementary and middle schools to combat childhood obesity.
In a plan to the Board of Education, the groups, which include the American Cancer, Heart and Diabetes associations and the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce, are pushing for 150 minutes of P.E. instruction every week for elementary students and 225 minutes a week for middle-schoolers.
That's up from the 45 minutes the state Department of Education recommends for K-3 students, 55 minutes in grades 4-5, and 107 minutes in grade 6.
Seven out of 10 high school students don't get enough exercise, state data shows.
Hawaii's childhood obesity rate is growing twice as fast as the national level, which has doubled in the past 20 years, according to Stephen Bradley, a doctor at the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center who is pushing for more P.E. time.
He attributed the local trend to children unaware about the benefits of being healthy, few exercise facilities outside of school as well as genetic tendencies of native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders to gain weight.
"I've treated 250-pound 8-year-olds and 500-pound 16-year-olds," Bradley said. "We are at that level. Obviously, these are limited cases but they are out there, and we just have to tackle this problem now."
The proposal given to the school board tomorrow calls for each school to have a certified P.E. teacher, or an employee with professional development in the subject in the past three years. Schools would use a national assessment to measure student fitness and understanding of physical education, and receive $100 per student in state money to buy P.E. equipment after developing a standards-based curriculum.
"We gave them a proposal that we felt was not going to break the bank," said American Heart Association spokesman Don Weisman.
Weisman said just more than half of some 92 P.E. teachers serving 180 public elementary schools are certified. For the state's 54 middle schools, there are 181 P.E. teachers, of which 109 are certified, he said.
Education officials will meet again in January to debate whether to recommend more P.E. hours, said Lei Isa, chairwoman of the school board committee reviewing the proposal.
"Public testimony was strong in support of such an increase due to the tremendous amounts of teenagers and young adults with obesity and type 2 diabetes being seen by doctors," she wrote in an e-mail. "I think that the BOE needs to seriously look into what programs are being offered ... not just increasing hours, but actual educational programs."
Senate Education Chairman Norman Sakamoto said he would be willing to consider funding the plan to raise P.E. time if the board passed it.
"The money is part of it. More money would allow getting a resource teacher," said Sakamoto (D, Salt Lake-Foster Village). "The other part is where to get the minutes in a school day."
Separately, lawmakers are expected to revisit a bill, introduced by Sakamoto, that would require elementary schools to have at least one licensed P.E. teacher by the 2012-13 school year.
But several health advocates have criticized a portion of the bill (SB604) because it would let high school principals give credit to students involved in after-school and other co-curricular activities starting in the 2008-09 school year.
Donna Chun, president of the Hawaii Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, said athletics are not a substitute for physical education. She warned that students who simply join a team or do sports don't get "the knowledge, skills and confidence needed to be physically active in and out of school for the rest of their lives."
"They are out to win, and that's the bottom line," she said.