Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Childhood Obesity and Physical Education

No one doubts that we have a child-hood obesity problem in Virginia. We also know that increasing the portion of the day our children devote to physical activity is one component of addressing this problem, along with proper diet, sleep habits and other factors.

That is why House bills 1644 (O’Bannon) and 1710 (A. Howell) along with Senate bills 803 (Lucas), 966 (Northam) and 934 (John Miller) are on the fast track.

HB1710 has been rolled into O’Bannon’s HB1644, and two of the Senate bills were rolled into Northam’s SB966. Perhaps it is a coincidence that physicians are carrying both of the surviving bills, but the two doctors certainly understand the health consequences of Virginia’s childhood obesity epidemic. Senator Saslaw, though not a physician, provided a quip that reveals the problem, “Some of our kids look like circus freaks.”

It appears that in both the House and Senate, the surviving bills require 150 minutes of “daily physical education” per week in grades K-8 and “a goal for implementation of a similar program in high school students.” They give our schools until 2014-2015 to meet the requirement.

None of the bills speak to the costs associated with implementing this policy. To his credit, House Education Subcommittee Chairman Scott Lingamfelter steered the house bill to the House Appropriations Committee for an examination of the fiscal impact of the legislation.

The costs are but one factor to consider. If the time for physical education in the school day is expanded, what will we take out of the day? In many of our elementary schools, physical education, music, art and sometimes library time are provided on a rotating basis. If daily physical education is required, what becomes of music and art? It appears that the school day would need to be extended to preserve these programs. This could make the costs of implementation high.

The physical education, music, art and library time rotations also provide the planning time for elementary teachers. If more physical education teachers are not provided to implement the requirement, when will elementary teachers have time to plan?

In addition, currently, students are pulled for tutoring during this time period. The fact that the target test scores to meet AYP have been ratcheted-up yet again makes this tutoring all the more important. When will these tutoring sessions take place?

It seems that implementing these bills will be a far more complicated, consequential and expensive that the bill’s sponsors imagined. It’s the right thing to do, but will the state come up with the funds to implement the policy? Don’t hold your breath.

Although VEA has not taken a position on this legislation, we are trying to ask the right questions. You may wish to weigh (no pun intended) in on the issue with your delegate and senator.


MRD said...

The VEA should have taken a position on this legislation. I cannot understand why they didn't.

Any time someone tries to impose and unfunded mandate on our schools, no matter how noble the cause, the VEA should take a stand.

Any time someone tries to emasculate or eradicate important programs in our schools, the VEA should take a stand.

But for some reason the VEA didn't even put this on our radar until it was almost too late. The unintended consequences of this legislation could easily cost many of us our jobs, and the VEA was content to sit on the sidelines and did nothing to protect us.

This failure to act in my defense is why I will no longer contribute to the VEA's political campaigns. I must conclude that my money is being wasted.

Unknown said...

You are being very short-sighted in your comments. VEA has always taken a stand against legislation that has negative consequences in our schools. Consider the possibilty that VEA didn't put this issue on your radar because it wasn't on theirs. Many legislators look to VEA for advice on educational issues, but sometimes some of these legislators put forward bills without the advice of education professionals because they think they are doing us a favor. Now that we know this bill is progressing, why not join VEA in their efforts enlighten the General Assembly and the public to halt the progress of this misguided bill instead of pointing a finger.

MRD said...


I have joined the effort. In fact, due to local advocacy by groups in northern VA, I have been working on this for TWO WEEKS already. When you say that VEA didn't have this on their radar, it's because their radar is what's short-sighted.

I have emailed every person on every committee that considered both the Senate and House versions of this proposal at EVERY STEP of the way. What has VEA done during that time, other than give us the run-around when we tried to bring it to their attention earlier?

I think we need to do BOTH. We need to demand better action from the General Assembly, as some of us have been doing all along. But, we also need to demand better focus, leadership, and responsiveness from our union, which has been behind the curve on this issue in spite of its having been in the news for most of the past month.

Unknown said...

As an elementary physical educator it really bothers me that you basically admit that physical education periods are planning time for teachers and that they are necessary and acceptable times for pulling students for tutoring. Yes, funding is a problem, but I think that with some creative thinking it can be done. Won't recess contribute to this time? Recess may have to become more structured but it is about time that we take the health of our students seriously. Not to mention that children who are physically fit do better on standardized tests.
I too support the art and music programs and I would hope that we would also see the great benefit of these programs to the learning process. Our children need them all. We have pushed these programs to the side every time that something else is deemed "more important". Remember we are now educating the first generation whose life expectancy is less than their parents because of the obesity factor. In my elementary school 45% of my 4th and 5th graders are considered overweight or obese. That is unacceptable and yet their physical education time was cut this year in favor of more tutoring time.
I am disappointed in your short sighted approach to a bill that is long past due.

omni verma said...