Georgia kids can’t touch their toes. Can schools fix that?

Schools are being asked to get students moving more. (Vino Wong/AJC)

Schools are being asked to get students moving more. (Vino Wong/AJC)

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.

According to the AJC:

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

39 comments Add your comment


March 22nd, 2013
8:19 pm

No surprise here. The previous school that I taught at cut recess out completely for all grades K-5. They got PE one week out of three. It was ridiculous.

Georgia raised

March 22nd, 2013
8:42 pm

Anyone with a young boy knows they learn and behave better after getting a chance to run around. Kids are not created by God to just sit around at a desk – they need the daily activity.


March 22nd, 2013
9:04 pm

Agreed. They can spend weeks doing standardized tests, but can’t spare any time for physical activity. Not all schools are as bad as yours, but they definitely are cutting out too much recess and PE. Elementary kids can’t be expected to sit in a chair all day. It probably contributes to their discipline issues.

Old Physics Teacher

March 22nd, 2013
9:08 pm

So…let me see if I got this? We cut out recess (pure physical activity) to increase the time spent in “learning,” even though we knew that the attention span of young children wasn’t that high to start with and would be a total waste of time. And to keep the cost of the “free and reduced lunches” cheap (since the state legislatures cut taxes and cut the amount of money spent on schooling) which forced the lunchroom to start cutting out proteins and vegetables and increasing the fats and carbs (because they’re cheap), we now have kids overweight (apple-shaped chubby boys AND girls!, APPLE-SHAPED 13-16 YEAR OLD GIRLS!???) and weaklings? Who could have foreseen this, right? Certainly not the legislators, they’re as stunned as, as… incompetents?


March 22nd, 2013
9:32 pm

“Georgia kids can’t touch their toes. Can schools fix that?”–Maureen Downey

Liberals get rid of recess and PE and wonder why kids are obese??? LOL!
You just can’t make this stuff up! :-)

Not PC and a HS teacher

March 22nd, 2013
9:38 pm

This is nonsense. The school system is not the arm of a utopian nanny state.

Teach the curriculum that the state has established. You can’t cut recess time, eliminate physical education and then start being concerned about obese children.

Stop with the invasive social engineering agenda. Educate the population don’t become their big brother government.

Stop layering the original purpose of the public schools with one overly sincere but unachievable mandate after another. Sex ed, drug awareness, now fat patrol. What will be next?

People are responsible for their fitness not the government.


March 22nd, 2013
9:52 pm

This is not the schools’ problem! Adding 20 minutes of recess a day is not going to make kids more fit. Parents need to unplug the video games and make kids play outside. My 4th graders talk about going home and playing video games from the time they get home until bedtime. We go outside for recess and most of the time I’m listening to complaints about how it’s too cold, too hot, or refereeing disputes with other kids because they can’t handle their own problems.


March 22nd, 2013
9:54 pm

The Parents of these KIDS are just as OBESE and immobile. In most cases are MORE OBESE than their Kids! Just take a peek around the room at any School function. TWO TON TESSIE’S everywhere you look! Its now a lifestyle! How can they themselves correct something they are unable or will not DO for THEMSELVES?

Once Again

March 22nd, 2013
10:14 pm

They can’t read, do math, think critically, spell, or think independently. The government schools can’t seem to fix these problems (probably because THEY created them). Why would you expect them to fix obesity. Schools are being built without playgrounds and those that have them have covered them with trailers. School bus stops are practically every 100 feet so these poor kids don’t even have to walk a bit to get to them. Nearly NO kids walk to school anymore. The entire system is a failure and should just be shut down. America deserves better, and parents are more than well-equipped to provide better once they are forced to finally take responsibility for the children they brought in to this world.

10:10 am

March 22nd, 2013
11:01 pm

The ones who really need guidance … are those who think the apparatus of government can be employed to fix any problem and ensure any outcome.

At taxpayer expense.

N. GA Teacher

March 22nd, 2013
11:07 pm

In the 1960s U.S. public schools were the primary advocate for health and physical fitness- and it worked great. Young kids had 2 recesses a day, while junior high on up had daily gym class. This not only introduced kids to sports, games, dance, teamwork, and healthy living but also reduced classroom management problems by giving kids stress relief as well as a way to burn excess energy. And yes, it is true that parents seemed to emphasize playing outdoors after school, and they assigned physical chores for kids, such as mowing the lawn, raking leaves, painting, weeding, etc. Curiously, there were no high-stakes standardized tests, yet kids seemed to learn and EARN graduation just fine!! Idiotic political decisions in the last 3 decades have minimized physical fitness, which is very bad in light of the breakup of the family unit, in which dads are not present to motivate and assist kids to play sports, and discipline issues and obesity have become worse. And there is little evidence that our kids are any better students.

Private Citizen

March 22nd, 2013
11:17 pm

Not PC and a HS teacher, children are not “people” in the way you use the term, as in adults responsible for their own fitness, particularly when the adults cage the children indoors without PE time. The way some of you are so uncaring and toxic toward the youth is disheartening. It’s like there is a special chair in hades waiting for you.

Private Citizen

March 22nd, 2013
11:18 pm

10:10 is just frustrated because he can not pin unions on children.

Private Citizen

March 23rd, 2013
2:50 am

10:10 What is your opinion of signals at intersections, and of interstate highways? Let me guess, you own your own helicopter. What is your opinion of EMS and fire departments? Let me guess, you live in a concrete house and own your own hospital next door. I wonder if Ben Franklin had to deal with guys like you when he put the first street lights in the United States in, in Philadelphia. Maybe you ought to read this. Maybe it is the the correct venue for the term “intelligent design” where In the first Place, as an Ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Cure.

Private Citizen

March 23rd, 2013
3:15 am

rural juror

March 23rd, 2013
9:09 am

The kids love the Mrs. Freshley’s Honey Buns from the vending machines. There is so much saturated fat, sugar, etc… I really appreciate the nutritional facts on food items but what I find tricky is the number servings per package. 2 servings per package means double all of those percentages you see and a 30% daily value of saturated fat become 60%. Read a package of Ramen noodles and there are 2 servings per pack, which most of us could devour in one sitting. Sodium is another item packed in all of our foods for perservative and flavor reasons. Some food can have cancer causing ingredients like sodium nitrates(beef jerky) and TBHQ(ramen noodles) if eaten in large, daily quantities. Americans have been spoiled with foods developed for easy manufactoring and extended shelf life. There is a reason why a box of mac&chz is a buck but a bag of apples is 5$. Change is hard, it will take discipline. At least my school switched out all the sodas with the diet and “zero” equivilences. And those artificial sweeteners are bad too. I guess the eutopian school would serve nothing but pure juice and water and have a fresh veggie vending machine and a garden behind the cafeteria where the cooks can hand pick the food to prepare for lunch.

rural juror

March 23rd, 2013
9:11 am

If you have not heard of TBHQ, you will be surprised what FDA allows us to eat.

worried about the numbers

March 23rd, 2013
9:25 am

Thank you, N. GA teacher, for bringing in the bigger picture. The issue with lack of physical activity isn’t that schools should make up for what parents don’t do. Schools can’t do that, I agree with some of the other writers on that.
But SCHOOL IS PART OF THE PROBLEM! The way it’s structured right now is contributing to obesity, but it’s also self-defeating. Inactive stressed children don’t learn well. No sane educator would think that children should sit still for that long. Sitting for more than 2 hours is really bad for the body. We may not need 30 minutes in one chunk, that might be difficult to do, we need frequent recess and movement. Scores of studies show that children who are physically active do better on tests and learn better. We need kids to walk to school, at least part of the way, because that helps them focus better, including during exams. We need kids to get up for a dance and stretch break. We need kids to run around outside before lunch because then they eat a healthier lunch. We need to go back to ‘better’, not ‘more’. I bet if you sat down with teachers about this, you’d get some really good ideas.


March 23rd, 2013
9:51 am

We need more recess, and to pair it with something besides eating a snack. What I see are many kids sitting around at recess, EATING. We need P E every day (not just twice a week for 30 minutes) and recess twice a day, perhaps 20 minutes at a whack. And cut out the emphasis on snacking!

I shudder when I see the food the cafeteria serves (too much salt, too much fat, too much breaded “meats”) but have you looked at what kids bring to school? The vast majority have NOTHING in their lunches but preprocessed junk!

BUT, is it up to the school to fix? No, the school should fix what it can, by increasing the pe and recess, but it is up to the parents to feed their kids healthy food, give them responsibilities that require more than pushing a button with their thumbs, and enjoying being outside instead of parked in front of a screen.

What's Best for Kids?

March 23rd, 2013
10:42 am

How about we let them have more play time? Recess, anyone? My kid gets 20 minutes.

What's Best for Kids?

March 23rd, 2013
10:46 am

And if a child misbehaves, recess is taken away. Gee. One would think that the students who are misbehaving need the exercise the most!

Not surprised...

March 23rd, 2013
10:57 am

As a society, we appear imprisoned by the notion that knowledge is the only value worth pursuing in the school system. How sad we neglect developing our children as “whole” beings. Diet, activity, spiritual well being, and altruism are just as important. Touching ones toes appear to be over rated….

What's Best for Kids?

March 23rd, 2013
11:03 am

I like the idea of ensuring 30 minutes a day. I always thought that if I went back for my doctorate, I would research test scores in conjunction with the amount of physical activity children get. I believe there is a correlation there.

Maureen Downey

March 23rd, 2013
11:15 am

What's Best for Kids?

March 23rd, 2013
12:06 pm

Thanks, Maureen. It’s common sense, really. I know that I perform better, and I am much nicer when I get my tail to the gym in the mornings. I know that my children are easier to manage when they get out and run (this rain is killing them…and me).
Why school perpetually take away things that would benefit the students is beyond me.

V for Vendetta

March 23rd, 2013
1:04 pm

“spiritual well being, and altruism”????

No thanks. I’d prefer to teach my own kids about such things.

Anyway, this whole issue is silly to the point of absurd. (It should be noted that I sit here typing this as I am devouring a double quarter pounder with cheese.) Since when did others–whether we are talking about the schools, government, or our friends and neighbors–have to shoulder the burden for our poor decisions? Well, since the last half-century or so, and, in case you are a little thick on US History, sociology, and philosophy, you should know that this is an ever-increasing problem with no end point except total and complete control. Control of your life. Is that what you want?

We kid ourselves to think that many of the issues facing us as a country and society can be divided into two categories: democrat and republican. The truth is far more obvious (which must be why people can’t see it in spite of themselves). They are BOTH the same. The ALL want to control us and expand the government at benefit to themselves and no one else. I mean, duh.

This is just the latest in a long line of idiocy stemming from those in power. (And we put them there, by the way, because of our inability to vote for PEOPLE instead of PARTIES.)

Bloomberg wants to control how much sugary drink you can enjoy. Georgia wants to try and combat society’s new-found laziness with forced activity and diet monitoring. Mississippi wants to let you indulge in as much sugary drink as you’d like.

As if they have to grant us permission. Good lord.

We’ve gotten ourselves into this mess. Us. The citizens of this country. A quote often attributed to Hunter S Thompson goes something like this: “In a democracy, people often get the government they deserve.” No truer is that statement than right now.

Oh, and as for my McDonald’s snack… I work out 5-6 times a week, have ridiculously good blood pressure, cholesterol, and a resting pulse rate of about 55. I can eat whatever I damn well please.

jerry eads

March 23rd, 2013
1:52 pm

Yes, they can.

WE, through those we elect to legislatures across the country (It’s OUR fault, no one else’s), started cutting PE with the legislated minimum competency tests 30+ years ago then finished the job electing the grossly incompetent let’s have a beer with him GWB who shoved NCLB down our throats thanks to the “manipulation” of test scores at the Houston schools (LONG before APS).

The message was clear: don’t teach anything worthwhile, don’t care about kids. Don’t worry about the smart kids, don’t worry about the least capable. Just make sure at all costs (including PE, music, art, love of learning) that the bubble kids (those performing right around the test pass level of difficulty) can pass these stupid worthless tests that measure nothing but stuff that makes kids hate school so more of them drop out. (You think I’m kidding? Read and do the research like I have for the past 3 decades.) THEN, of course, steal every possible dime from public school state funding to pay for petty little pet projects like fishing contests.

We have met the enemy and he is us.

This little blip on the horizon WILL fail, because our elected trolls and halfwits never, EVER think about how all the pieces fit together. However: thanks to the “national curriculum” Common Core – that in spite of our worst efforts (uncoordinated “standards” rather than sane curriculum and horribly made minimum competency tests) may bring some modicum of sanity back to our public schools and let teachers do what they can do – care about and teach our kids.

Atlanta Mom

March 23rd, 2013
3:49 pm

I think recess is a good physical outlet for K-2, but what I observed after 2nd grade was the girls standing in a group, not doing much at all. Daily PE for all!


March 23rd, 2013
6:55 pm

Back in my day, we had a morning recess, after lunch recess, and an afternoon recess. We had slides, swings, jungle gyms, see saws, and probably one or two other toys that the safety nazis have removed. We ran, played tag, played football, wrestled, and got dirty.

Today, if you ride by a schoolyard, if they are lucky, they have something that looks like it came out of a McDonalds playland. Lot of kids standing around talking. Tag, dodgeball, or any other activity where someone might scrape a knee or get their feelings hurt are verbotten.

And then, some educators wonder why little Johnny can’t sit still in class for 7 hours.

Add insult to injury, some systems are talking about going to a four day week and extending the day in a vain effort to save money.

That said, when we went home, there was usually a MOM at the house who shoo’d us outside to play. We didn’t have to go to some daycare to sit around and watch TV and we didn’t have TVs in our rooms. Video games weren’t popular until the 80s (?). Doesn’t matter. Nobody had one.

Twas a good time to grow up in…

Pride and Joy

March 23rd, 2013
7:28 pm

Yes, they can, by eliminating soda machines and candy machines and crap in the school. Even school lunches have ice cream served for goodness sake.
And hire only teacheres and employees who themselves have a healthy body weight.
Don’t allow overweight boys to play football or participate in non-aerobic sports. REQUIRE good old-fashioned calisthenics in gym class — jumping jacks, sit ups, running.
With GA being one of the kings of the free lunch crowd, where kids eat two meals a day at school, schools can do a whole lot to ensure kids aer healthy but most want to get profits out of the Coke and candy machines and fat and greasy food is much cheaper than healthy chicken and salad.
Obese? No football for You?
Fat and lazy? No marching band for you.
You want to teach kids? YOu must be a good role model and have a healthy body mass index.
On food stamps? Only healthy food is allowed.
Adults love to criticize kids but adults make the decisions in a child’s life.
Every Lard butt adult in life is making it harder for kids to be healthy.

drew (former teacher)

March 24th, 2013
10:30 am

P&J…not so fast my friend!

There are some good fat teachers out there (my favorite teacher of all time was a LARGE woman!). And the marching band might actually be good for the fat and lazy.

Pride and Joy

March 24th, 2013
1:26 pm

DREW, a fat teacher is NOT a good teacher.
A GOOD teacher is a GOOD role model.
All teachers teach by example. When a two ton tommy/tessie is in front of the classroom, she or he negates every nutrition lesson.
My kids’ school is supposedly a candy-free school and my childrens’ teacher told we parents that we were not allowed to bring candy on valentines day
BUT the TEACHERS gave my kids 600 calorie pastries WITHOUT my permission!

Pride and Joy

March 24th, 2013
1:28 pm

Drew, band is NOT good exercise. They stand out in the hot sun and sweat a lot but the “marching” is limited and it is not aerobic.
Basketball is aerobic. Soccer, swimming and gymnastics are aerobic but football and baseball are not. Just look at the professiona players — they’re obese.
And look at high school marching bands — even the majorettes are fat.

Pride and Joy

March 24th, 2013
1:30 pm

You NEVER see a fat slob on the basketball courts. They are all lean and healthy.
Look at football players — every defensive player has a gut so big he looks like he’s pregnant with twins.

looking for the truth

March 24th, 2013
4:04 pm

How many ills are the schools supposed to fix? Kids come from poverty, starting 1-3 years behind in reading and counting and schools are supposed to catch them up within a year. Kids don’t get enough to eat at home so schools are supposed to feed them 1-2 meals each day. Kids don’t get enough exercise so now the schools are responsible for the obesity problem.

Shall we blame the schools for the delay and cost overruns of Plant Vogtle and other programs, while we’re at it?


March 25th, 2013
12:48 pm

@ USMC RE: “Liberals get rid of recess and PE and wonder why kids are obese??? LOL!
You just can’t make this stuff up! :-) ” In case you haven’t noticed, Georgia has had a Republican governor for the last decade. And, “No Child Left Behind” was a George Bush mandated law (with some collaborative input by Democratic Senator Kennedy), which triggered the extreme emphasis on testing, leading to less time for recess and PE and anything else that is not on the tests. Yet, you find a way to blame this only on liberals, instead of offering a solution. Georgia is a “red state”, for the most part overall. There are plenty of counties and school districts controlled by Republican politicians. The problem should already be solved, then, in all those districts.

Ole Guy

March 25th, 2013
5:24 pm

Studies show a disturbing percentage of youth unable to pass the simplest of entrance requirements…military induction. Physical, mental and moral standards, already set at rediculously low plateaus, are beyond the reach of far-too-many kids; reasons for this sorry state are many; blame/responsibility are shared in many quarters of contemporary society. We can single out just a few…parents, teachers, Santa, the Easter Bunny and even the Tooth Fairy…however, at the end of the day, just one, and ONLY one entity can be held 100% accountable…THE KID HIMSELF (gender neutral).

By now, many…perhaps many many…may view the Ole Guy’s comments as those of an ole fashioned ogre who hates the younger gen, when, in true fact, the burden of guilt lies within those who insist on treating kids, up to high school (psuedo) graduation, like helpless children from whom little can be expected in the way of performance standards, physically or mentally. WHY? Because, unfortunately, YOU…parents, teachers, the entire educational establishment…have become too damn afraid…afraid of your kids; afraid of yourselves; eachother.

Expensive money-sucking programs are not the answer. Labeling schools and teachers as sub-performing are definitely not the answers. START DEMANDING THE BEST; ONLY THE BEST, from these kids. Too afraid this will demoralize the…non-hackers? Perhaps YOU are afraid of YOU; their (ostensible) failures will serve as reflection of YOU.

Only when these kids are allowed to experience the sting of failure…failure to meet the standards, both in mental and physical performance…will progress begin. These kids, despite woeful academic (quasi) achievements, are not stupid. They’ll know what to do when faced with the harsh realities of failure; of not meeting the standards. Dammit, just give em the chance; STOP coddling their every move.


March 26th, 2013
12:08 pm

How is the United States going to fight all its wars and keep up its persona as “the world’s policeman” if the future generations of soldiers and sailors can’t even pass an entry level physical fitness test?

Ivan Cohen

March 27th, 2013
11:52 am

The school systems will fix this once students start showing up at their facilities, pulling an oxygen tank behind them.