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.