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Kickball, crab soccer, dodgeball, jump rope – for most adults, all these activities bring back memories of fun times spent in PE. It was a great way to burn off steam and learn something about a new sport, all while absorbing the importance of staying physically fit. PE definitely contributes to teachers actually being able to do their job (and preserving their sanity in the process!) by giving kids a place to release all of their pent up energy, so that they can then buckle down and focus on their school work. Unfortunately, the next generation may grow up without those same memories and all the benefits that come with them.

Due to how common it has become for PE to be removed from our nation’s schools, Voices for Healthy Kids and SHAPE America, the Society of Health and Physical Educators, just released an update to the Shape of the Nation report on the state of physical education and physical activity in the American education system. The report, which is designed to help advise physical education policies and practices, shows significant and sometimes striking differences in statewide policies regarding physical education programs in the schools.

For example, only Oregon and the District of Columbia meet the national recommendations for weekly time in physical education at both elementary and middle school levels, which is currently set at 150 minutes for elementary students and 225 minutes for secondary students. On the other hand, few states set any minimum amount of time that elementary, middle school/junior high and high school students must participate in physical education. Texas is among those states, requiring students to take physical education in grades K-8, but does not have a requirement for the number of minutes. For high school students the findings are particularly troubling, with only six states establishing minimum times that students must participate in physical education, even though the positive impact on their physical, mental, and emotional health is well-documented. Studies show that active children consistently outperform less active students academically in both the short and the long term. They also demonstrate better classroom behavior, greater ability to focus, and lower rates of absenteeism.

When you consider that 32% of the nation’s children and adolescents are at an unhealthy weight, and the majority are living sedentary lifestyles, you quickly realize that this issue should be a top priority for lawmakers. Creating and nurturing opportunities in schools for students to get the recommended amount of time in PE, while addressing the quality of instruction as well, is one of the most cost-effective approaches to combating this growing health crisis. That’s why Voices for Healthy Kids created the #ProtectPE campaign designed to unite parents, community leaders, and public health advocates around local and state-based efforts to strengthen physical education in the schools; advocates like LaShonda Cameron of Houston, TX, a Physical Education teacher who knows first-hand how important PE is to the health and future of Texas’s children.

For National Physical Education and Sports Week, LaShonda shares her perspective:

"Physical education is very important to the well-being of growing youth.  Inactive and unhealthy youth turn into inactive unhealthy adults, so this is not a generational issue.  Students need to be taught the benefits of having an active lifestyle versus a sedentary one if we hope to improve the chances of a healthy adult lifestyle. 

In my experience, students are very receptive to knowledge about their bodies, fun ways to stay active, and the benefits of a life with movement incorporated.  For this reason, I am puzzled as to why the thought of removing physical education from school is even a discussion when there are an abundance of studies that find significant benefits, both educationally and physically, for students.  I see this proven every day for myself. It brings me joy as I see the students in my classes realize that being physically active is not complicated, fun with innovation, beneficial educationally, and most importantly, rewarding.  Even better, with this insight, I have seen students positively influence their friends and families with the knowledge they have obtained. In this way, PE in schools has the potential to influence not just the students, but the community as a whole.

My students are making informed decisions about diet and exercise because of what physical education provides, something that no other subject does. The simple fact that it betters the chances of an active adult lifestyle should be reason enough to #ProtectPE because the next generation will be tomorrow's leaders.

Join me to #ProtectPE by informing your elected officials how important PE is for both our kids and our communities. Use this easy action alert to send your emails now. #Protect PE, it's a no-brainer!"

~LaShonda Cameron
Physical Education Teacher
Elsik 9th Grade Center
Alief Independent School District

LeeAnne Ferguson is the Safe Routes to School Director at the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and the For Every Kid Campaign Manager. She is an important and dedicated partner of the AHA’s on the issue of Safe Routes to School. We wanted to share her story with you and a little bit more about the important work we are doing together.

Q: What campaign or effort have you been an advocate of?

LeeAnne: “I am most passionate about kids’ health and safety. I want every kid to be able to safely walk, bike and access transit to school (also called Safe Routes to School). This issue is important to be because our kids are in real danger from traffic fatalities and obesity related diseases. Too many kids. I am tired of the fact that where you live, what color your skin is, and how much money your family has determines how safe your streets are and how healthy you are.  We are leaving many, many kids and families behind and it is past time to change that.

Q: Why do you advocate alongside the American Heart Association?  

LeeAnne: “AHA has helped support the campaign through the Voices for Healthy Kids initiative, and staff engaged with our For Every Kid campaign very early on. AHA has been great mentor and inspiration for grassroots organizing.”

Q: What is the For Every Kid campaign?

LeeAnne: “We have 84 organizations in the For Every Kid coalition, including 5 cities and 8 school districts. Over 3,500 people have taken action and asked elected officials to dedicate $15 million to Safe Routes to School for every kid in the Portland metro area. Dozens of For Every Kid members have attended meetings and testified in support of Safe Routes to School.”

Q: Can you describe a challenge you’ve faced—and why you haven’t given up?

LeeAnne: “I was very discouraged at first. Like when every time we talked to an elected official, they would say that they agreed, but that it is not possible to make safe routes to school. Over time we have been able to change this statement to how can we make safe routes to school. Now elected officials are working through tough questions in a tight budget to figure out how to address the problem. We will continue to ask that they dedicate $15 million to safe routes to school for every kid.”

Tamika Quinn, Virginia

Tamika Quinn is a force to be reckoned with.  Ex-military, now a self-made entrepreneur with a charitable ‘side business,’ she’s making her mark on the world and setting a strong example for her daughter.  But she’s had to overcome some challenges to get where she is today!

She says, “I grew up in the heart of North Philadelphia. It was about as inner city/urban as it gets. I remember as a young child wondering why we had to travel so far to go grocery shopping. There was a small market not that far away but it had more convenience foods than fresh.  

Flash forward...I've always wondered if the strokes that I had at only 27 years old were linked to the food we ate during my childhood. I've never received any definite answer, though they know that the subsequent strokes were a result of the hole in my heart. I just wonder if my lack of nutrition education contributed to my health issue.

At that age, I had already been diagnosed with high blood pressure and obesity. In my mind it was okay because everyone in my family had high blood pressure and what's wrong with being a little "thick"? Right. Well for me everything was wrong with it. The stroke I had at 27 left the entire left side of my body affected.

It took lots of intensive therapy, prayer, and love to get me back to where I am today.  However, I wish I had known how to prevent all that I've gone through.  Any health issue that can prevented should be!  Since we know that nutrition plays such a key role in later health, it’s well worth our passionate focus now.”

Tamika became an advocate with the American Heart Association’s You’re the Cure network and urges everyone to listen up about the prevention issue.  Right now the Virginia General Assembly is considering funding to help attract grocers to areas where it’s hard to find nutritious foods.  Virginia voters can support the effort here.

Rules for success she shares with the girls she works to inspire through her GLAM Girl Enterprises business in Virginia:

  1. You are what you think you are.
  2. Set goals and find someone to hold you accountable.
  3. Find a mentor.
  4. You don’t get a pass for being a woman in business.
  5. Women have an advantage in business.
  6. Don’t quit!

Telling legislators that french fries are the most common vegetable served to toddlers, AHA volunteer Jane Kolodinsky urged Senate Health and Welfare Committee members at a recent hearing to implement nutrition standards for restaurant kids meals.

Jane, the chair of UVM’s Department of Community Development and Applied economics, has published research on childhood obesity. Among her findings?  Going out to eat isn’t just a treat for families anymore. Away-from-home food accounts for nearly half of all food dollars spent. Improving the nutrition of that food can make a difference in the fight against obesity.

And does good food sell? You bet. Jane reported to the committee that a recent survey conducted about the nutrition improvements that were made in the food service at the UVM Medical Center found that the hospital now gets 14% of its business from people coming from outside the hospital just for the great food!

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