As funding is cut and schools face pressure to meet more rigorous testing standards, physical education classes are often the first thing to go. Many argue that the lack of P.E. is one reason for the increasing rate of childhood obesity. But are P.E. classes as important as you'd think when it comes to the health of our children? A new study says no.
The study compared children (ages 7-11) from 3 schools in the U.K. The amount of time they spent in P.E. per week ranged from a high of 9.2 hours to a low of 1.7 hours. Researchers found that no matter how much P.E. they got during school hours, by the end of the day the children had moved around about the same amount, at the same intensity. (Children wore devices to measure their physical activity (and the intensity of that activity) all day for 4 weeks as part of the study.)
It seems that the kids who got a lot of activity during the school day tended to do less when they got home from school. And the kids who did not get much activity at school made up for it by being active at home- riding bikes, playing sports, etc. Despite how much activity they got, the children still varied widely in health factors like cholesterol- but mainly because of their diets, not activity level. According to researchers in this study, "Children have an activity "set point"- an energy-expenditure baseline to which, over time, they will naturally revert." So some kids just tend to be more active than others.
Another study, also from the U.K., found that boys who did less activity were just as healthy as those who did more. Those researchers concluded that children should be encouraged to go out and play, but not be forced into traditional P.E. programs. Both of these studies support the idea that nutrition, not physical activity, is more important when it comes to the health of our children.
When I was in school, P.E. introduced me to a wide variety of activities (like gymnastics, archery and lacrosse) that I would not have been exposed to otherwise. That encouraged me to find activities that I did enjoy, and pursue those as both a child and an adult. Regardless of what these studies say, I think P.E. should remain a standard part of a child's education. They should learn that activity can be fun, and establish habits early on that they can continue for the rest of their lives.
What do you think? Should P.E. be an important part of a school's curriculum? Do you agree with these studies that conclude diet, not physical activity, is most important when it comes to the health of our children?
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