Before I began writing about education, I never thought much about all that we ask of schools, from teaching kids calculus to civics to character to cardiovascular health. As an editorial writer, I would attend meetings where one group after another would tout some critical new skill that kids ought to have or some societal problem that schools ought to fix.
But I began to realize schools can’t be ground zero for every societal change; they simply don’t have the time or resources to tackle every challenge facing America today, including childhood obesity.
Can schools help? Sure, but I doubt schools can solve a problem that begins in the home with poor nutritional habits and lack of regular physical activity.
With that backdrop, here is an AJC story on just how out of shape Georgia kids are.
Only 16 percent of a million Georgia schoolchildren were able to pass five basic tests of physical fitness, and 20 percent were unable to pass any of the tests, the state’s top public health leader said in a speech this week.
“Not only couldn’t they walk a mile, but they couldn’t touch their toes, and forget push-ups,” said Brenda Fitzgerald, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health.
The tests were administered by the governor’s Student Health and Physical Education Partnership (SHAPE), a coalition of education, health-care, government and nonprofit leaders dedicated to improving the state’s significant childhood obesity problem. They gave the tests last year to almost a million children from the fourth to the 12th grades in 97 percent of the state’s schools.
The tests measured flexibility, body/mass index, aerobic capacity (in a one-mile run/walk or in an interval run) and the ability to do push-ups and curl-ups. Results of the tests were dispiriting to health leaders in a state with the second highest rate of childhood obesity. (Only Mississippi’s is higher.) In some ways the results make our children look like senior citizens.
“What we’re seeing from a disease perspective [among children] are diseases normally seen in adults, including hypertension, high cholesterol levels and type 2 diabetes,” said Marsha Davis, associate dean of outreach and engagement at the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health and an expert in childhood obesity. “A child should have the flexibility to touch their toes,” she added.
Dr. Fitzgerald also announced a plan to collaborate with the Department of Education to add 30 minutes of physical activity to the school day for every elementary school child. Adding that extra 30 minutes will be a challenge in schools that are already pressed to raise test scores and cover more academic material.
What Georgia has to do is not just have the state do certain things like change rules for schools’ lunches,” Fitzgerald said. “We need every segment of society to make some changes, and that includes changing what we do, what our children do, what our parents do, what our schools do and, ultimately, what society does … The mantra is 30 minutes every day, every child, every school in Georgia. And we’re going to be there … I’m convinced we can do it.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog