Did it really take the American Medical Association to tell us this? The AMA has pronounced childhood obesity a disease — also, that boiling water scalds and wood splinters.
On a “self-evident” scale of 10, this is an 11.
Just as clear in the 21st century, and backed by statistics is the fact that poverty is obesity’s handmaiden.Central culprit are cheap fast food and snacks that supplant healthier fare.
As much as we should worry about the poor child with pencil-thin arms, by far the bigger issue in our country is too-big children.
What children eat is only half the problem, though. What they do with their time is far more serious. Vigorous exercise can mitigate just about anything a child can ingest. (What becomes of the child’s teeth is another matter.)
For this reason, initiatives like Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign couldn’t be more important, not just because they motivate children to get off their duffs, but also because they propose that adults do something to avert the catastrophe signaled by the fact that one in eight children enters school obese.
One really positive indicator: Nine states now require recess at the elementary level. The negative? Forty-one states don’t.
If you say, “That time could be better spent on reading, writing or doing math problems,” be advised that the hissing sound you hear is lucidity leaking out your ears. (In the words of a one-time 8-year-old in my home who searched for a synonym for “crazy,” you are “out of sane.”)
I vowed long ago never to forget what it was like to be a child. It is insane that school districts so devalue the function of fresh air and physical activity, particularly when states continue to heat up the “accountability” pressure cooker.
Which brings us to the structured activity that comes with physical education.
Any parent whose children have completed 12 years of schooling knows of good P.E. teachers and horrid ones.
The worst seem to operate in secondary school. There, too often the obligations of coaching overshadow any other function. It’s a common symptom, particularly in regions where football is king.
It is not physical education to roll basketballs or volleyballs out on the floor and retreat to one’s chalkboard or scouting reports.
While a few students happily will occupy themselves physically in said fashion, I had a son who whiled away his wholly unsupervised, unscripted high school P.E. period playing chess in the bleachers with a friend (they had fashioned the chess pieces from pieces of notebook paper).
Physical education? It was a scene from Stalag 17.
If the school wasn’t going to engage them in physical activity, these kids could have used it otherwise — a captivating elective, maybe. Regardless, a parent have much preferred that one’s child be doing something aerobic and fun in P.E., and should demand it.
One reason why I so strongly advocate for P.E. and recess is that both were so important to my education. In 12 years of schooling I was exposed to every imaginable sport, from those that would present themselves in varsity form — basketball, track and field, gymnastics, wrestling — to those that didn’t: speed ball, mush ball (indoor softball), volleyball, and, yes, dodge ball. Every activity left us huffing, puffing and engaged.
By the time I was through with high school, in P.E. class I’d tried my hand at every gymnastics apparatus, every track and field event, and much more. I had a greater appreciation for athletic activity in general. P.E. helped me become an active adult. It serves me today.
What activities are your schools encouraging for your children? If your answer is “couch surfing” or “Grand Theft Auto,” start screaming.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.