Editor’s Note: This is the second part of our two-part series about how physical education has been impacted by national budget cuts. To read Part 1, click here.
In our last piece, we discussed the current happenings in this political and economic milieu as they relate to the state of education and the health of our children. There is no federal law requiring schools to provide students with physical education. Nor are there incentives for schools to do so. Instead, states are allotted the power to set requirements, but school districts are responsible for actually implementing them.
With very little funding, many schools have cut physical education altogether. According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), the median budget for physical education in schools across the country is $764 per year—not much. View the infographic on this White House budget page to put into perspective how much of the U.S. budget goes into education.
Why is a lack of physical education in our schools bad for our children, their future, and our nation?
PE and Academic Performance
American schools have backed away from physical education classes in favor of rigorous academic focus so that the United States can compete in a challenging and advanced global market. While this may seem like a reasonable and necessary thing to do, it does more harm than good.
According to studies by NASPE and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), attending physical education classes is directly related to better academic performance and attitude toward school. Physical activity promotes brain function and psychological well-being, reduces anxiety, and increases overall energy and attention span.
Additionally, a report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) concludes that physical activity as taught in physical education classes and school sports can help prevent risky behaviors like smoking, doing drugs, drinking alcohol, and unhealthy eating; antisocial behaviors and violence; and pregnancy. The report concludes that “There is a clear consensus that children and youth should be involved in physical activity on a regular basis, and that teaching/reward systems should encourage active participation and enjoyment by all students, not just the highly skilled.”
Less Physical Education, More Obesity
In all of this, the obvious deduction is that less physical activity equals more unhealthy children. The CDC reports that 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 are obese. That’s twelve and a half million children that are obese in America—almost a fifth of our future. This figure has tripled since 1980. Almost 34 percent of adults are obese.
Overweight and obese children are at high risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, low self-esteem, joint, bone, and muscle problems, and more.
Increased Health Care Spending
State and federal government may think slashing PE programs will save money. Perhaps this is true of short-term, narrow thinking. In the long term, however, decreased physical education in school means fewer healthy lifestyle choices. This leads to more sedentary lifestyles, an increased prevalence of heart disease and other weight-related health issues, and higher health care costs for America.
PE is cost effective; $147 billion is spent yearly on obesity-related health care costs. With an upward trend in obesity, this figure can only grow. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Funds spent on teaching youth how to live a healthy lifestyle are worth billions to the health care industry and America’s tight budget.
By not teaching our children how to live a healthy, well-balanced life, we rob them of their well-being. Physical wellness is not just something that comes naturally to us—we have evolved in this world—we don’t have to do hard labor just to survive, we don’t live off our own land anymore. In other words, physical wellness is not inherent in our lifestyle anymore; it directly opposes it. Physical wellness requires teaching, just like learning a language that will be used throughout our entire lives. Physical education teachers “focus on the skills and knowledge needed to establish and sustain an active lifestyle” (Shape of the Nation Report).
Maybe the lack of physical education in schools is less of a gamble with our future than an outright dismissal of it.