As obesity levels and health issues are rising among young children and teens across the country, public schools are implementing new health and physical education programs to help prevent illnesses while striving promote wellness. Some studies report that the new health programs not only help children to improve physically, but a school’s wellness plan can also help students improve emotionally, behaviorally, and academically as well.
The Current Health Issues Facing Public School Students
Since 1997, America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, has issued reports regarding American children’s health and wellness. According to America’s Children, one of the biggest issues of concern among all public schools and parents is the rising percentage of overweight children: “In 1976–1980, only 6 percent of children ages 6–17 were overweight. […] Most recently, in 2005–2006, 17 percent of children ages 6–17 were overweight.”
Paired with this, Asthma is another disease, in addition to weight, that is a serious concern for American children. According to studies, “Asthma is a leading chronic disease among children, and rates of childhood asthma have remained at historically high levels since the 1990s.” Recently, in 2006, 9 percent of children suffered with asthma.”
As schools are becoming increasingly aware of these issues, public wellness plans are designed to decrease obesity rates, while also helping students cope with specific health issues, such as asthma, diabetes, and many others.
Revised Health Programs in Public Schools
Further investigating children’s health, America’s Children explains: “Children's health is influenced by their biology, social and physical environment, and behaviors, as well as the availability of services.” While schools cannot wholly influence a child’s daily experience, schools are striving to increase their involvement by revising school physical education programs. Currently, North Carolina Schools and Ohio public schools are among two of the many states that are demonstrating focused plans for improvement.
North Carolina Public Schools and the State Board of Health
According to research supported by North Carolina’s State Board of Health, public schools across the state are implementing mandatory physical education and recess programs to combat the many health issues plaguing young students.
As the school board explains in its “Policy Manual,” the teachers and staff must seek to provide students enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade with the opportunity to “participate in physical activity as part of the district’s physical education curriculum.” Included in the “physical activities” is an allotted time for elementary students to engage in at least 150 minutes of exercise a week while being supervised by a certified physical education teacher. Moving upward, middle school students are provided with at least 225 minutes of activity per week, which includes engaging students in both physical education and healthful living classes.
According to the NC School Board, these physical education and health programs are being revised and implemented in order to “address issues such as overweight, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and Type II diabetes.” Furthermore, the School Board supports that “the physical education course shall be the environment in which students learn, practice and receive assessment on developmentally appropriate motor skills, social skills, and knowledge as defined in the North Carolina Healthful Living Standard Course of Study and foster support and guidance for being physically active.”
Ohio Public Schools and Health Programs
Unlike North Carolina, Ohio currently lacks a state-wide curriculum for health and physical education. According to research supported by the organization “What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You,” Ohio current has efforts for a state-wide curriculum underway; however, “in the short term, it appears Ohio will continue to have no common standards of health education -- and no proficiency testing.”
Despite Ohio’s lack of a mandated health curriculum, many smaller schools and districts are adopting “Wellness Policies,” based on information supported by various medical boards. Ohio’s Crestview Local School
District, for example, has designed a “Wellness Policy” that is aimed to “ensure students at all levels can make decisions that will positively affect their lives […] Superintendent John Dilling says the policy had input from students, parents, and teachers -- even a nearby hospital.”
According to Superintendent Dilling, the district designed its health program to address the physical, mental, and social aspects facing kids in public schools. As such, Crestview Local Schools
“try to provide students with opportunities to be involved in the community, to be involved in school and also address the physical aspects of it, which is their healthy eating habits
, their physical well-being, and those types of things.”
Why Public School Health Programs are Often Overlooked: the Pros and Cons
Among many possibilities, one of the potential factors influencing the rates of obesity and declining health in young children is perhaps the United States’ decreased funding for public school health and fitness programs.
According to the American Heart Association, “Experts agree that increasing physical activity can help combat childhood obesity, yet many schools are cutting back on PE programs because of lack of resources and competing academic standards.”
Ultimately, public school health programs are not only costly, but are also often pushed aside in order to better accommodate the demands of the more rigorous academic core classes, such as math, language studies, English, science, and so forth. While many schools are certainly aware of the pros and benefits of strong health and fitness programs, issues of budget, access to resources, and funding often restrict public schools’ progress.
in the school district can raise the administration’s awareness of the importance of nutrition and wellness programs. By working with your PTA and voicing your desire to improve your children’s health, you can make a difference in the programs offered at your school district.