Although First Lady Michelle Obama and others have brought more attention to childhood obesity, schools across the country are slowly getting rid of physical education programs. According to a survey conducted by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of students polled had no physical education during the week. In New York and California, only 20 percent of students get physical education.
Budget cuts are usually blamed for the issue, along with preparation for standardized testing. Others believe schools just aren’t prioritizing gym class at all. “There does not appear to be a promotion, or support, from the Department of Education for daily physical education in many of our high schools,” Jeff Engel, a vice principal at Long Island City High School in Queens, told the New York Times. “We have a huge obesity epidemic in the city, yet we see many of our high schools going to nondaily physical education.”
It is recommended that students get 150 minutes of physical activity a week and despite this, only six states follow this mandate, according to a study from the University of Georgia. “Findings indicated that statutes were written in a manner that did not explicitly mandate school-based physical education but rather recommended or suggested it,” wrote Bryan McCullick, author of the study and professor of kinesiology at UGA. According to McCullick, even if the mandate was made mandatory, school would only have to provide 30 minutes of recess a day to meet the requirement.
“Recess does not guarantee 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity,” McCullick continued. “Unfortunately, many legislators and school officials think the opposite.”
The U.S. Department of Human and Health Services recommends one hour of physical activity a day for children and teens and a survey in 2009 found only 18 percent of high school students get that amount of exercise. Only 33 percent of those kids attended a daily gym class.
McCullick also emphasized the education aspect of physical education. “You could put kids on a treadmill for 45 minutes a day and have them walk [and] they would get their recommended amount of exercise,” he said. “That doesn’t mean they’re going to know how to be physically active after they’re not mandated to do that anymore.”