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Quality physical education part of the cure for childhood obesity

This is an excerpt from Physical Education for Lifelong Fitness-3rd Edition by SHAPE America - Society of Health and Physical Educators,Suzan Ayers & Mary Jo Sariscsany.

Regular participation in physical activity has a significant positive effect on people's health and well-being. In turn, improved health and well-being positively influence quality of life and society as a whole. Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the allied health community emphasize the importance of lifelong physical activity to good health. This is true for all people, including those with physical and mental challenges, the sedentary population, and even elite athletes.

In recent years, society has shown an unprecedented interest in health. Newspaper articles discussing health issues appear on a daily basis, and more and more “healthy living” classes are being offered through community resources. Newspapers include daily advertisements focusing on personal health. Television stations devote time to promoting health issues, and fitness classes are aired in weekly television lineups. Technology has allowed quick access to the latest health reports. Internet sites provide easy access to questions and answers about health-related issues. Government documents such as Promoting Better Health for Young People Through Physical Activity and Sports: A Report to the President (Secretary of Health and Human Services and Secretary of Education, 2000) are published and disseminated on a regular basis. Professional organizations such as the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD); the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE); and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research and publish data on the importance of physical activity.

In addition, First Lady Michelle Obama is spearheading a national public awareness effort to address the childhood obesity epidemic within one generation. This effort, Let's Move! (, is supported by the interagency federal Task Force on Childhood Obesity developed by President Obama. The overarching goals of this group ( include

  • ensuring access to healthy, affordable food;
  • increasing physical activity in schools and communities;
  • providing healthier food in schools; and
  • empowering parents with information and tools to make good choices for themselves and their families.

School-based physical education is strongly recommended because of its effectiveness in increasing physical activity and improving physical fitness among adolescents and children (Task Force on Community Preventive Services, 2002). Physical education can add significantly to the health and well-being of children and adolescents through physical activity. Although this concept is not new, significant research supports the role of physical education in health improvement. Physical education programs can help prepare children and adolescents to live physically active and healthy lives. Physical educators can help the community understand the relationship between physical activity and a healthy life. Community support can increase when people understand the positive influence of an effective physical education program on children and adolescents. Physical educators can develop strong relationships with allied community health practitioners, physicians, and local government. When people think of schools as contributing to both the cognitive and physical well-being of children and adolescents, greater support can be developed. Physical education not only teaches children about a wide range of healthy habits but also provides them opportunities to participate in health-enhancing physical activity.

What Is Physical Best?

In the early 1980s AAHPERD and NASPE recognized the need for a program that would help youth understand the importance of lifetime physical activity through regular physical activity. This program would focus on educating allstudents from a health-related viewpoint, regardless of their abilities. Thus, in 1987 Physical Best was developed.

Physical Best is a comprehensive health-related fitness education program. It provides a series of activities and conceptual information to be included in a quality physical education program. Physical Best is standards-based and assists both teachers and students in meeting the NASPE national physical education standards for physical education pertaining to health-related fitness. Physical Best is designed to assist students in achieving their individual physical best.

It is important to clarify that the Physical Best program was not designed to be used as a stand-alone curriculum. The materials that make up the Physical Best program can be used in conjunction with existing curricula and should be considered instructional materials, not a curriculum framework.

To aid in understanding the mission of the Physical Best program, clarity among a few commonly used terms must be established. Fitness, physical activity,and exercise are frequently presented in the popular media as synonymous terms.

  • Health-related fitness is a measure of a person's ability to perform physical activities that require endurance, strength, or flexibility. This kind of fitness is achieved through a combination of regular exercise and inherent ability. The components of health-related physical fitness are aerobic fitness, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition as they relate specifically to health enhancement.
  • Skill-related fitness is often confused with health-related fitness components. Skill-related components often go hand in hand with certain physical activities and are necessary for a person to accomplish or enhance a skill or task. Skill-related components include agility, coordination, reaction time, balance, speed, and power. An individual can still achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle and lifelong participation in physical activity without possessing a high degree of skill-related components. Health-related and skill-related components are not mutually exclusive, but the Physical Best program primarily focuses on the health-related components of fitness (see figure 1.1 on page 6).

Further, the USDHHS (2008) offers technical definitions of these terms:

  • Physical activity is strictly defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in an expenditure of energy. It includes a broad range of occupational, leisure time, and routine daily activities from manual labor to gardening, walking, and household chores. These activities can require light, moderate, or vigorous effort and can lead to improved health when performed regularly.
  • Exercise is physical activity of a repetitive nature that is planned or structured to improve or maintain one or more of the health-related fitness components.

Physical Best focuses on the positive benefits of physical activity (not just exercising), offers a variety of enjoyable activities, and develops knowledge and skills needed to be confident and successful through a variety of movement activities across the lifespan.

Physical education in the nation's schools is being shortchanged at a time when an increasing number of American adults view physical activity as important to their health. It should come as no surprise, then, that the availability of physical education and the rate of physical activity among young people are declining.

This information is reflected by data provided by the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which found that 34.7% of high school students met the recommended physical activity level of 60 minutes per day for five of the seven days before completing the survey. Conversely, these same YRBS data revealed that 53.6% of high school students attended physical education class at least one day per week and 30.3% attended daily physical education.

Shape of the Nation 2010 (NASPE) noted the following:

  • Between 57% (elementary) and 90% (high school) of all states require certified physical education teachers to provide planned instructional programs of physical education. This has remained consistent since the 2006 edition of this text. Half of all states grant temporary, emergency certificates to teach physical education with the minimum requirement being a bachelor's degree in any area or in teaching.
  • In 59% of all states, students can substitute other activities (i.e., ROTC, interscholastic sports, marching band) for required physical education credit.
  • Among children (ages 6-11 years), 33% are overweight and 17% are obese. Among teens (ages 12-19 years), 34% are overweight and another 18% are obese.

According to the fifth annual F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America, 2008 report (Levi, Vinter, St. Laurent, & Segal), adult obesity rates have increased in 37 states over the past year while no state saw a decrease. Although this report focused on adult obesity rates, one of the recommendations for combating obesity included increasing the amount and quality of physical education and activity in schools and childcare programs. The key issue is, How should we be preparing children and adolescents for daily physical activity? Implementing a planned program of instruction provided by certified physical educators and eliminating the option of exemptions, waivers, or substitutions is a reasonable starting point.


Read more from Physical Education for Lifelong Fitness.

More Excerpts From Physical Education for Lifelong Fitness 3rd Edition