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Results of Public Opinion Poll Show Illinoisans Support Daily Physical Education

by Anne S. on Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Last month, advocates from across the state gathered in Springfield to draw attention to the importance of daily P.E. in Illinois schools. The American Heart Association participated in a press event on March 19 annoucing the latest polling results that showcase strong support by Illinois residents for daily P.E. Illinois Advocacy Committee member Beth Mahar spoke on behalf of the American Heart Association at the press event. Below is the news release from the event.

 A new poll shows the majority of Illinoisans support Physical Education (P.E.). Representatives from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the American Heart Association, the Illinois Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (IAHPERD) and the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity (IAPO) gathered at the Illinois State Capitol today to discuss details from a public opinion poll commissioned by ACS CAN on physical education requirements in Illinois.

Results of the poll, conducted by FAKO Research & Strategies, show the majority of respondents believe physical educational requirements are a high priority at all grade levels, with four out of five (80 percent) expressing that P.E. should be required at every grade level and to graduate from high school.

Illinois health organizations agree. "Quality daily physical education that engages both the mind and body leads to enhanced academic performance," said Mark Kattenbraker, past president of IAHPERD.

The poll also showed that Illinois voters strongly support current physical education requirements. At this time, P.E. is required for all students in grades K- 12. However, the state permits substitutions, like team sports, Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps, etc., to replace the requirement. A school district can also apply for a one-time, two-year waiver for P.E., which can then be extended for up to six years.

"Physical education is key to our kids’ and our state’s long-term health," said Rhonda Pour, ACS CAN volunteer. "Obesity and inactivity already account for 1 in 3 cancer deaths in this country and at current rates, obesity threatens to surpass tobacco use as the number one preventable cause of cancer."

Poll participants were also asked about potential changes to P.E. requirements, which would limit waivers, prevent substitutions and require highly-qualified P.E. specialists as teachers. The majority of voters polled support the changes to the current P.E. requirements.

"Many of us who have been working on the issue of P.E. over a period of decades have noticed a positive shift in culture over the last few years. Even as some Illinois schools have mounted a campaign to cut P.E., people seem to value physical education more and more. These polling results only confirm that," said Elizabeth Mahar, a retired physical educator and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. "In this age of 24-hour health clubs and personal trainers, adults increasingly see P.E. as an important life-long health issue for their children -- a sharp contrast with their own old-fashioned ‘dodge ball in gym’ experience. And as they begin to understand that quality PE is a way to immunize their kids against a life-long struggle with obesity and chronic disease, parents begin to see PE as necessary rather than an optional."

ACS CAN, the American Heart Association, IAPHERD, the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity and other health officials throughout the state are calling on legislators to protect current P.E. standards and to make physical education a priority.

"We work with dozens of community coalitions around the state through our Healthy and Active Communities network, and they are making school programs like P.E. a critical priority for developing healthy kids, and thus, healthy adults," said Elissa Bassler, Executive Director, Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity, and CEO, Illinois Public Health Institute. "Our community partners are working with parents, advocates and school officials on strengthening P.E."

"Today’s P.E. standards are not enough to combat the current obesity epidemic and to teach our kids how to be healthy for a lifetime," said Pour.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) recommends that states require all school districts to develop and implement a curriculum that adheres to national and state standards for physical education for a minimum of 150 minutes per week in elementary and 225 minutes per week in middle and high schools.

FAKO Research & Strategies, Inc., of Lisle, IL, interviewed a random sample of 600 registered voters in Illinois by both phone and mobile phone.

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