Guest Blogger: Dr. Minot Cleveland, Oregon

This year advocates were successful in getting an additional $4 million dedicated to physical education grants – a major increase from previous funding levels and a big win for Oregon kids. The funds will be available to all schools through a competitive process to help train and fund PE teachers, helping provide more children with quality and adequate physical activity throughout the school day. While we still have a long way to go to give kids the physical education and physical activity levels they need to build healthy lives, this funding support is a good first step forward.

As a physician in the trenches of clinical medicine, I can assure you of one thing: We cannot treat our way out of the obesity epidemic. If we do not stem the obesity, inactivity and diabetes epidemics, it is only going to get worse, much worse. Much of the gains we have made in reducing heart disease deaths will be lost. Consider these disturbing statistics:

  •     Nearly 1 in 4 Oregon children are overweight or obese.
  •     Obese children are more likely to be diagnosed with chronic diseases like heart disease; high blood
        pressure; and diabetes that require costly treatment.
  •     The cost of treating an obese child is 3 times more than treating the average insured child.

No single change will reverse the obesity epidemic. But we do know one critical component of the solution: Quality physical education. But does PE really work? Here is some of the evidence:

  •     PE increases children’s levels of physical activity, physical fitness, and increases the likelihood they will
        become active adults.
  •     Active, fit kids do better academically.
  •     Sacrificing PE time does not improve academic performance. In some cases, more PE leads to improved
        grades
    and standardized test scores.

Physical education is preventive medicine at its best and improves academic performance. The evidence is clear.  PE is a medicine that works, but it only works if, like any medicine, it doesn’t sit on the shelf.  It only works if children actually get quality PE instruction in adequate “doses.”

Our success this year started with passage of HB 3141 in the 2007 Oregon legislative session which did three very important things.  First, it directed the Oregon Department of Education to conduct an inventory of all schools and districts to find out how much PE is actually being taught in Oregon.  Second, the bill adopted the evidence-based recommendation for PE instruction supported by the AHA and numerous health-related organizations: 150 minutes per week for elementary students and 225 minutes per week for middle school students.  Third, it created a grant program to help schools jump start their efforts to implement the minutes’ standard.

Unfortunately, the surveys conducted since that time show that our children are not getting the needed amounts of quality PE.  On average, Oregon elementary students are getting less than half of what the AHA recommends in terms of PE minutes per week. We are a long way from fully implementing HB 3141 by its target date of 2017 – which is why the investment this year is so important.

I have volunteered for the American Heart Association for over 20 years. I am very proud to be associated with an organization that has done so much to reduce heart disease and stroke in Oregon and across the United States. With the continued leadership of the AHA, we will continue our quest for quality PE for all kids.