Monday, October 22, 2007

More Phys-Ed is Not the Answer (Recess, environmental reform, and changes to the Farm Bill are)

Last week New York City Comptroller William Thompson came out in strong support of added physical education programs in New York City schools. According to a press release that his office issued, he has called for this because of the mass health problems of New York City students, especially those from low income neighborhoods.

This is an important issue and a serious problem, but more physical education is not the way to approach it. This is in no way an attack on Comptroller Thompson, but on the more general and widespread notion that phys ed classes could possibly give students the amount of exercise they need and that more of it will help reduce youth health issues like obesity.

The important function of physical education is to educate students on how to get healthy and take care of their bodies. Students do not need this class 5 days a week. In many situations, my school included, added phys ed classes have cluttered up schedules so badly that the school had to extend the regular day to 4:10. Healthier students won't come from more phys ed classes, but creating a culture of exercise in the younger grades and changing government policies that propagate the unhealthy lifestyles of many students.

Recess, for one, is a great way to create the aforementioned culture. As Jonathan Kozol points out in his latest book Letters to a Young Teacher, playgrounds and recess are disappearing from low income schools because the No Child Left Behind Act has increased the need for test-prep. Under this system of high stakes testing as a gauge of educational "results" recess is deemed unnecessary. In the low income neighborhoods of New York City and the rest of the country, however, recess is vital in improving student health. It gives students the chance to use their bodies and also gives them time to develop their imaginations (thus leading to better health, mentally and physically, for all.)

Other important factors in youth health are the environment and nutrition. As one of my fellow NYCSUers pointed out at Monday's meeting: "My school did have a playground, unfortunately it was right next to a highway." Pollution is a real contributing factor to poor health among low income students and must be dealt with. Right now, Asthma rates among Harlem youth are at crisis levels. Our nutrition can be improved by changing the Farm Bill in the US Congress that determines what food producers get federal subsidies.

This week the Senate is taking a look at the bill, which has been criticized by organizations like Eating Liberally for subsidizing producers of unhealthy foods (twinkies and fast food come to mind) over those who produce more healthy and nutritious comestibles.

It also might be a good idea for them to renew SCHIP. Just a thought.


health watch center said...

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Health Watch Center

Louis said...

Just something to note Seth, though i agree with your overall contention.
According to the Times, asthma hospitalization rates “plummeted” in the last decade.
While this certainly doesn't solve the health issues faced by today's students, it certainly is good news.