Do Ga. kids get enough physical education in school?



ATLANTA - As we've focused on Georgia's childhood obesity crisis this month, we've noticed dozens of Facebook posts from Channel 2 Action News viewers about the lack of physical education in Georgia schools.
The real numbers show Georgia is doing a good job at keeping some children active and educated, but other children are being way underserved.
Trainer Kendall Wood works hard to make sure children play hard.
"Children shouldn't work out.  They should play.  Playing is their sport.  We used to play tag, hopscotch, hopping on one leg.  Children really don't do those things anymore," Wood said.
In part, that's because physical education is disappearing from Georgia's school day.  State policy shows elementary school students need to get 30 minutes of activity a day.  That's 90 hours over the school year.
Dr. Bryan McCullick is a kinesiologist at the University of Georgia who has published a study on the topic.
"If you don't know how to be physically active, you're not going to go out and be physically active," McCullick said.   "P.E. is a legitimate subject. P.E. is to help children learn the motor skills, the information necessary, learn about their bodies and how they work so they can be physically active."
As children grow in Georgia, their physical education requirements shrink.  P.E. is an elective in middle school, and only one unit credit in high school.
Emily Stoniecki is a program director with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's Strong 4 Life movement.
"When we work with kids each day, I think we see kids who have varying levels of education on physical activity," Stoniecki said.
She takes the Strong 4 Life movements into schools and communities and has noticed a drop in the level of knowledge and activity in children's physical fitness.   The Georgia Department of Public Health's fitness gram testing has showed the same results.
"We really saw where it wasn't just the overweight obese kids who struggled with the fitness gram.  It was everybody," Stoniecki said.  "Almost 1 million Georgia kids were tested and the results really weren't where we'd want them to be."
The 2012 fitness gram measured basic fitness, like touching your toes, pushups, crunches, and walking or jogging a mile. 
Georgia isn't alone in falling short on physical education.  McCullick's findings found only six states follow appropriate physical education guidelines.  Georgia is strong at the elementary level, but beyond that, requirements drop off sharply.  Some other states actually were worse.
"Some states had nothing at all while some states used synonyms for physical education, like physical training or physical activity.  Neither of which really are physical education," McCullick said.
Some experts believe what physical education may need is an image overhaul.  It's the only class where a ratio of 40 children to one teacher is accepted.  McCullick said education officials would never allow that in other classes.
Time could be critical in Georgia.  Currently, one in three kids is obese.   If the state continues at this rate, one study showed that by 2030, Georgia could have an adult obesity rate over 50 percent.
"There's one place where kids could be guaranteed to get a physical education and some physical activity," McCullick said.  "That's in the public school."

Channel 2 Action News

Delivered To Your Inbox