First Lady Michelle Obama launched a major initiative to combat child obesity, but it won’t be successful unless schools take a leading role, says Jeff McNamee, health and human performance professor at Linfield College. That means taking a hard look at how schools approach physical education.
“We’ve offered the same approach to physical education since the early 1950s,” McNamee says, “but many kids are not interested, and clearly it’s not working.”
The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980, and now kids are more obese than ever, and more sedentary.
“Somewhere along the way the goals of physical education and athletics got mixed up together,” McNamee says, “and now we do things like ask kids to play basketball for eight years, but not every child likes that type of activity. Competitive team sports have their place, but they’re not for everyone.”
Schools are ideal venues for intervention with our children’s health, says McNamee, who is studying the effectiveness of a health club model in schools. “If we change the education models and begin to view PE as a school-wide program rather than a class, we can introduce children to individual fitness activities that will sustain them for a lifetime.
“Educators would do well to teach physical activities like biking, the second most popular recreational activity among adults after walking,” he says. “Real educational health reform will mean changing our viewpoints and rethinking our approach.”