PE cutbacks send children an unhealthy message

Another Voice

Another school year is coming to a close.

Seniors are suffering senioritis as they prepare for graduation. Underclassmen are planning their summers. Teachers are beginning to plan for next year. Yet, this is not a typical school year. Oregon has made national headlines because of a funding shortfall in public education.

Hood River County schools, like many schools, have to cut millions of dollars to survive. A local tax option will be placed in front of voters in September. The option is a chance to reduce the amount of cuts our schools will have to face. If the local tax option does not pass there will be no qualified and experienced physical education specialists at our elementary schools.

What does this mean? As of January 2004, elementary physical education specialists will lose their jobs, leaving over 1,000 elementary students without their physical education teachers. Hood River County elementary students will be feeling the effects for a lifetime. Consider these facts:

Nearly 40 percent of children ages 5-8 have health conditions that significantly increase their risk for early heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, inactive lifestyles, and more.

Obesity rates in children have doubled over the last two decades — 14 percent of children are now obese.

Early on-set for cardiovascular disease, cancer, type II diabetes, osteoporosis, and atrophy of muscle are directly related to inactivity during adolescence.

On the average, first through fourth graders watch more than 2 hours of television on school days, and close to 3.5 hours on weekend days. In fact, according to a recent Hood River County teen survey over 50 percent of our students spend more than three hours a day watching TV, playing video games and surfing the Internet.

Obesity, a risk factor of sedentary lifestyles, is estimated to cost $117 billion in medical expenses yearly.

The top three leading causes of death in the United States are all correlated with inactivity.

The quality physical education programs offered at Hood River County elementary schools can help reverse these statistics in our community. By developing motor skills at an early age we can provide the tools for our children to be physically active for a lifetime.

An active student reaps many physical benefits; improved cardiovascular fitness, stronger bones, weight regulation, lowered risks for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. A daily physical education program provides more than just physical benefits. Children improve mentally, psychologically, and socially. Scientific evidence supports claims that physical education programs help to improve student interest in learning, academic performance, and judgement.

Physical education promotes self-discipline, encourages goal setting, improves self-confidence and self-esteem, provides an outlet for stress, strengthens peer relationships, and reduces depression. We are not talking about recess or playing dodge ball in the gym. We are talking about teaching children to become active young adults.

Imagine if our children lost all these benefits. We already are the most inactive and obese nation in the world. What message do you think we would be sending our children if we cut our elementary physical education teachers?

The time is now to lend a hand. We need everyone to help. Let your friends and neighbors know we need them to vote yes for the local option. We need them to value physical education and the benefits our children reap. As a community we can come together and overcome budget issues to promote healthy lifestyles for our kids.

If you have questions or concerns please contact a physical education specialist at any Hood River County school.

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This column was submitted by the teachers in the Physical Education Department of the Hood River County School District.

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