Some may remember physical education (P.E.) classes as a fun time spent playing kickball, running laps or hiding under a rainbow parachute with friends.
But in 2018, physical education is now a weapon used in the fight against the obesity epidemic in our nation.
“We’re trying to teach our kids the right foods to eat, the activities to do that can keep them healthy,” said Shawn Kimple, principal of Benjamin Chambers Elementary School.
At Potomac Heights Elementary School in Washington County, Md., P.E. is more than just fun and games.
“We’re talking about how there’s different parts of health,” explained Chris Grove, a physical education teacher at the school. “There’s the physical health, there’s the social health, there’s the emotional health.”
Lessons on living a healthy life begin in kindergarten.
“We talk about [how], if a person consumes more calories than they exercise or put out, then they’ll gain weight,” Grove said. “Our goal is to maintain or lose weight,” said Grove.
At the same time, in two different school districts, the curriculums are matching up. Students in Benjamin Chambers and Potomac Heights are both currently learning about the fruit food group, as well as focusing on locomotor skills.
In Washington County public schools, officials who develop the health and fitness curriculums say the lessons change as the students grow older.
“[In middle school], we start talking about what our body looks like and what it means to be healthy – because image is not necessarily healthy,” explained Eric Michael, supervisor of athletics, health and physical education in Washington County. “Then, as we get to high school, we begin talking about fitness for life.”
Fitness for life is an important topic, as studies show that childhood obesity is directly associated to adult obesity and other health complications. This has been reported by the Penn State Center for Childhood Obesity Research.
“We had a teacher this year who introduced her class to kickball,” Kimple said. “So she has been going outside with [students] a couple times a week and teaching them the game, and they absolutely love it.”
Kimple says in-class activities like those are meant to supplement the lack of physical educational opportunities available throughout the school day. Currently, students have a single 40-minute P.E. class a week, and 30 minutes of recess time daily.
“Having one P.E. class a week is just not enough,” Kimple said.
Kimple says the school does what it can with the funding it’s been given – but in a neighborhood with a high poverty and need rate, helping kids get physically fit can be a challenge.
“It’s a challenge sometimes, a challenge on parents financially to get [their children] places and to have them involved in some of these activities,” Kimple said. “So as a community, maybe if we could come up with some lower-cost or free activities and maybe encourage our students, then it’s a starting point.”
In Washington County, some educators agree.
“Our students in our community, they don’t necessarily have all the opportunities to do some of these physical activities,” Grove said. “So how can I encourage them to tap into their creative genes and be physically active at home with what they have?”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some immediate consequences of childhood obesity include anxiety and depression, sleep apnea and Type 2 diabetes.