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Dr. Michael Katz

President, www.EatingKids.com

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Does the lack of physical education classes in many public schools contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic?

When I was in public school we had to take gym every day. I had 50 minutes of "physical education" every school day from Kindergarten through Senior year of high school. It turns out that LOTS of schools don't have gym anymore. So, does missing out on this 50-minute "workout" every school day contribute to childhood obesity.

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    May 22 2011: This is really about who should take responsibility and it would be nice to see this particular issue not dumped totally onto schools.

    Parents, Advertising agencies, processed food peddlers, fitness programs (at school), sedentary lifestyle choices and so on are all part of this issue.

    Ultimately, it comes down to the individual (adult) and parents modelling healthy behaviour to their kids.

    The 'system' is stacked against us but that's what you get for chasing money..
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      May 22 2011: I agree and the "stacking" can go much deeper.

      I mean not only are the kids being educated in a poor system of academia so were the parents!

      Where are social challenges coming from if not public entertainment and public educations!?
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      May 23 2011: I agree that we can't "dump" this on schools. I didn't mean to. I was only asking if it was part of the problem. The thing about PE classes is that it DOES get kids up and moving. The body responds to this by burning calories, increasing metabolism, etc. It also provides a great forum in which to TEACH kids about nutrition, exercise, etc. It is called Physical "Education" for a reason. Or, at least, it's supposed to be.
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        May 23 2011: Nope PE in this system only means a mild daily workout with the occasional sex and drugs awareness. More activity than education, no question.
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    May 22 2011: cont...
    To fight obesity, poor families need to have more access to healthier food, they need to be taught how to make better choices, they need to do more physical activities. Schools need to provide better lunches for the kids, encourage them to have a healthier lifestyle and invite parents to cooperate and also change their own lifestyles.
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      May 22 2011: One fact that supports your points as outlined above is that this problem is also sweeping India.
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    May 22 2011: The lack of physical activities does contribute but it's not the main cause. According to www.letsmove.gov: "Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese. The numbers are even higher in African American and Hispanic communities, where nearly 40% of the children are overweight or obese''

    I think that most of these problems started with the kind of lifestyle Americans developed along the years, always in a rush, this combined with the fact that cheap fast food is available at every corner caused a lot of Americans to be very unhealthy. Kids eat what parents eat most of the time, and parents buy what they can afford and is fast and simple, so if it is more affordable to buy a $1 hamburger than to spend $$$ on a bag of fruit and vegetables, of course that poor families will opt to buy Mcdonald's dollar menu.

    It is no coincidence that minority poor children are the ones more affected by obesity. I have heard people saying that fruit and vegetables are not ''sustaining'' enough, and they'd rather pay less money and get foods that make them feel ''full'', such as pizzas, hamburgers, etc... I can understand when people just can't afford to eat very healthy because I know it can cost a lot. With obesity comes other types of problems such type 2 diabetes:
    "Health care providers are finding more and more children with type 2 diabetes, a disease usually diagnosed in adults aged 40 years or older''
    http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/projects/cda2.htm
    Also, kids seem to be more sedentary than they used to be. Instead of playing outside and practicing sports, they spend more time watching TV, playing video games or on the computer.
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      May 23 2011: You're not wrong about lifestyle. In fact, that is why I asked about this subject. If PE classes actually got kids up and moving for 50 minutes on school days that would go far in helping them burn calories and fat, increase metabolism, etc. I'm all in favor of education and life-style modification, but as long as you've got a kid in school 5 days a week, shouldn't you use that time to educate them directly - as well as get them up and moving?
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    May 22 2011: Processed foods, video technologies, social changes, and fear of injury are the major factors that I see. The food kids (most of us) eat are loaded with things that aid in obesity. The advent of video games and internet real time networks is increasing the child to sit around and play instead of having to physically find it. Society has changed and with it brought an overprotection of todays youth. Parents are afraid to let their child go and play because of being barraged by fear mongers in attempt to sell products or simply spread ill ease. Then there is the increasing fear of injury that seems to go against expectations due to the ever improving medical technologies.

    And to answer the question I would think that eliminating P.E. would help obesity.
  • May 21 2011: Children aren't as motivated to be active anymore as they should be. It is obvious that nowadays you can spend your life on the internet concerning most aspects of your life.

    Concerning obesity, I also think that other factors come in place. If you look at the industry of food, it is understandable that kids will naturally tend to get bigger. I know this doesn't link directly to your question but it is so much easier to be active in a healthy body with a good heart.

    The psychological aspect as well is a part of the problem for me. First of all, the lifestyle of an obese person creates a vicious circle in a way. If the world these days offer you a life style where you don't need to be active then obviously people will take this path. From there becoming bigger is going to make an active life style even more difficult to follow.
    The other thing about it is that fat can be a very comfortable "barrier" from the world you live in.

    Education is very important but I think that now we need something more than gym classes at school. Gym class should be a way to inspire you to find your own way to spend energy. The education system needs to adapt to a new wave of children who don't face the same problems that kids did generations before.
    So I definitely think that less gym classes at school affect this epidemic greatly but it's not just about having more gym classes on our schedule anymore. Things should be done differently to make children understand the importance of physical activity and the joy you can get from it.
  • May 21 2011: I think there is a lot of blame to go around and lack of exercise in school is certainly one of them. There is truth to the old proverb "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" and this philosophy should be entrenched in the school system. Less walking, playing outside and more video games also contribute. The safety factor for kids walking alone is certainly a reality. Food is a major component as well - it used to be that meals were home cooked and school lunches prepared at home. Now it is simply too easy to get junk food - a convenience that parents, schools and the kids are far too willing to take advantage of.
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    May 21 2011: You make an excellent point about walking. I can remember walking to friends' houses, or the corner store, or down to the ball field...Is it that parents are afraid to let their kids walk anywhere (news reports of "predators" etc.)?
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      May 21 2011: Yes, I think the fear of other people is keeping kids in a strange and unhealthy capitivity. The sad part is that there is too much validity in the pervasive worry to ignore it even though it is true that most kids are abused by people they know. This state of affairs leads to highly organized sports that are available only to some.
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    May 20 2011: Absolutely!
    I learned many sports, games and even to dance with boys in my phys ed classes when I was a girl. It was mandatory until the end of secondary school and there were very few kids with weight problems. I think another problem is that we talk fitness out of one side of our mouthes and medicine reports that walking is an excellent form of exercise but none of the children I know walk anywhere- they take the bus to school or mommy drives them everywhere.
    None of it makes sense.