The Fatty Factories
Agreement seems general that Americans are getting fatter, posing significant health problems that negatively impact the overly plump ones and our society in many ways. Perhaps most distressing are numbers for school-age youths.
We are told 10 million youngsters ages 6-19 are overweight, and a good many of them are obese. A recent study indicates the number of overweight kids in each class increases as the students grow older.
Recently, I had an opportunity to chat with the local superintendent of schools, and the talk turned to high school athletics. The superintendent said she was very pleased that week to have hired a well-qualified athletic director. I said I wondered why a high school needed a full-time athletic director.
It turned out I was a dinosaur on the subject. The local school district and the one in my hometown are roughly the same size. When I was a student (1949-53) the entire sports program in the Tomahawk, Wisconsin, district consisted of high school boys’ football, basketball, and baseball, plus small intramural basketball programs for boys and girls. The Plainwell, Michigan, schools superintendent said her district sponsors 72 team sports! She was right; Plainwell needs an athletic director.
Assuming this dramatic increase in the number of organized sports activities over a half-century reflects national trends, something doesn’t add up. Why the dramatic increase in the number of fat kids at the same time?
It is possible that junk food diets, more prevalent today than when I was growing up, contribute more to the national overweight problem than does a lack of exercise. However, health professionals are in agreement that both good diet and exercise practices are needed to develop and maintain healthy lifestyles.
One factor may be a decline in physical education training. A 2008 study by the Center for Education Policy found many schools cutting back on physical education because of financial pressures or curriculum priorities for other types of instruction.
Another study, reported in 2007 by the Centers for Disease Control, found 22 percent of schools had no physical education courses at all. Only 3.8 percent of U.S. elementary schools, 7.9 percent of middle schools, and 2.1 percent of high schools offered daily physical education classes for the entire school year.
If school boards are serious about doing their part to help slim students down, they might get serious about slimming down the number of team sport offerings.
Many team sports allow only a few students to participate. The cost savings of eliminating some of them could finance physical education programs for all students. Information on good eating habits ought to be included in the instruction.