Health

The Importance of Physical Education and Why Our Kids Can’t Fail It

New report from a nonprofit advocacy group renders a frightening evaluation, but what will be done about it?

The anticipation of “report card day” is sometimes a dreadful experience for both parent and child. But when the United States receives a failing grade in one of the most essential disciplines of education — physical education (PE) — well, this is concerning at best.

On an importance scale of one to 10, Dr. Alberto Luchtan, M.D., a pediatrician practicing in South Florida for over 45 years, rates physical education a 20.

The National Physical Activity Plan Alliance (NPAPA), a nonprofit group based in Columbia, South Carolina, on Wednesday released its 2018 U.S. Report Card on Physical Activity for Children between the ages of six to 17 — and the overall grade is a D- (you read that right). Many children would find themselves grounded or at least on the receiving end of some very focused questioning and a remedial plan by concerned parents if they received such a grade in any subject.

This is the third such comprehensive assessment of physical activity the group has released for kids and young people in this country; it updates its first report card from 2014 and a second in 2016.

“While the overall physical activity grade for children and youth remained low at D-, the 2018 report card revealed positive signs, especially related to opportunities and infrastructure that supports physical activity in children and youth,” noted BusinessWire about the findings.

There are questions here. “Almost all school districts have policies requiring schools to meet the physical education needs of students with disabilities,” said the report — but why not all school districts?

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And on this point — “More than 70 percent of school districts have a policy that requires undergraduate or graduate training in PE or a related field for newly hired staff who teach PE in elementary, middle school and high school” — but why isn’t that percentage higher?

For far too many students, PE can feel like forced family fun. It’s often been the class to ditch, the one to be avoided at all costs. But physical activity and education provide the young human body with numerous medical and psychological benefits. The heart is the most important muscle in the body, and without it, the other muscles have no purpose. Developing a healthy heart through activity allows young people to set themselves up for good health in the long term. Heart disease is the number-one killer among adults in the U.S.

So conditioning our kids to care for this critical muscle sets an important foundation as the child ages.

Related: Texas Students Will Get an Incredible Back-to-School Surprise

The NPAPA report outlines nine areas in which grades can be improved. Russell Pate, NPAPA board chair, said in a statement that “there is no denying that the overall grades for the indicators remain critically low. This report card should generate a renewed sense of urgency to take the action needed for the sake of our children and their future.”

Understanding a need and having the ability to remedy it are two very different topics, however. Tom Lynch, former mayor of Delray Beach, Florida, and past chair of the Palm Beach County School Board, agreed with the abundance of benefits related to physical education. He told LifeZette, “Education of mind and body are principles over 2,000 years old,” referring to the writings of Plato and Descartes.

The physical benefits are obvious to most; however, the psychological teachings of “teamwork, teaching individual skills, learning how to challenge yourself, along with other similar principles, are all gained through PE programs,” said Lynch.

Related: You Might Be Praising Your Kids for the Wrong Things

Luchtan, the South Florida pediatrician, believes “the schools are afraid of the liability of offering PE.” He also expressed compassion for the working parents who are “unable to pick up the kids after school or take them to the park.”

He added, “Kids aren’t made to sit for six to eight hours.”

“Young people today don’t have balance in their life. Teach them the skills to control their lives.”

Lynch added to this the heat element in South Florida and other areas of the country — a factor that must be considered, he said. He said creativity is necessary to circumvent obstacles while providing a solid PE program for kids.

Aside from the physical component of education, Lynch is passionate about teaching children about moderation and balance. “Don’t eat the super-sized meal, skip the soda, and be moderate about the way you live and exercise,” he said.

“Young people today don’t have balance in their life,” he said. We need to “teach them the skills to control their lives.” He added, “Schools need to provide students the opportunity to make these decisions.”

Based in Boynton Beach, Florida, Christine King is founder and CEO of Your Best Fit, a health and wellness company that provides fitness, nutrition, and design and management services.

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