By Perry J. Weinstock, MD, FACC
The obesity rate has skyrocketed among adults and children in New Jersey and across the country. Today, about one in three American children and teens is overweight or obese, nearly triple the rate in 1963.
Physical education class is an important part of a student’s education. It provides an opportunity to be active during the day, but more important it teaches students how to pursue physical fitness in a safe and healthy manner.
Among children today, obesity is causing a broad range of health problems that previously weren’t seen until adulthood. These include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and elevated blood cholesterol levels. The American Heart Association reports obese children have an 80 percent chance of staying obese their entire lives. It is important that children learn how to be physically active and lead a healthy lifestyle into adulthood to avoid these life-threatening diseases.
Research shows that daily physical education has a positive correlation with academic performance and attitudes toward school. However, a June report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that nearly half of high school students had no physical education classes in an average week. The National Association of Sports and Physical Education recommends that elementary school students receive 150 minutes of physical education each week and that middle and high school students receive 225 minutes per week.
New Jersey requires students in grades 1-12 receive 150 minutes of instruction in physical education and/or health education each week. Because the requirement combines health and physical education, students receive less than the recommended amount of weekly physical education. The American Heart Association warns if obesity among children continues to increase, our current generation will become the first in American history to live shorter lives than their parents.
As a cardiologist and member of the Obesity Prevention Task Force created by the New Jersey Legislature, I encourage our educators to promote quality physical education for all students in New Jersey. With your help, we can begin to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic and encourage healthy habits in tomorrow’s adults. After all, students will not be able to reach their full potential in any area without good health.
Perry J. Weinstock, MD, FACC is the immediate-past president of the American Heart Association, New Jersey and chief of cardiology at Cooper University Hospital.
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