Schools should push nutrition and physical education
Hawaii's child obesity rate has grown twice as fast as the national rate during the past 20 years.
HAWAII'S children have an obesity rate somewhat lower than the national average, according to a study released several months ago. However, while the national rate has doubled in the past 20 years, Hawaii's rate has grown twice as fast. Nutrition and physical education should be a greater part of their curriculum to prepare them for healthy lives.
A report six years ago that Hawaii's obesity rate for children was twice the national rate was flawed because it was based on a survey in a poor, rural community in Maui County. A more recent study in August found that children ages 10 to 17 had a 13.3 percent obesity rate, compared to a national average of 14.8 percent.
Still, childhood obesity is becoming rampant among Hawaii's children, and groups that include the American Cancer, Heart and Diabetes associations and the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce are calling for more instruction in P.E. for elementary and middle-school students.
Hawaii now requires only 45 minutes of P.E. each week for K-3 students, 55 minutes for grades 4-5 and 107 minutes in grade 6. The groups propose that elementary students receive 2 1/2 hours of P.E. weekly and middle- schoolers 3 hours and 45 minutes a week. The proposal is consistent with recommendations by the the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.
Physical education and social studies have taken a hit in recent years, pushed aside by requirements of the No Child Left Behind law, coupled with a reduction in school hours. At the same time, Hawaii schools have a shortage of teachers certified to teach P.E.; only 92 of those teaching P.E. in the state's 180 elementary schools are certified to do so.
The health associations' proposal calls for each school to have a certified P.E. teacher or an employee professionally trained in the subject. They also propose that schools receive $100 per student to purchase P.E. equipment after developing a standards-based curriculum.
"More money would allow getting a resource teacher," said Senate Education Chairman Norman Sakamoto. "The other part is where to get the minutes in a school day." School hours, which have been reduced considerably, are bound by teachers' union contracts.
The question is not whether monetary and school-day limits will allow the expansion of physical education but how it can be done. Potentially healthy lives are at risk.
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