After my excitement about the President and First Lady announcing multiple strategies for combating childhood obesity on February 9, I did not imagine the next good news would come so soon. Two weeks later, on February 24, 2010, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger held a summit on health and obesity. He was joined by Bill Clinton, which made it a star-studded and bipartisan event.
The real action came at the press conference after the summit. The Governor announced new bills and executive actions that again place California at the forefront of public health efforts to improve physical activity, eating, and obesity. There were several important policy initiatives introduced, as explained in a press release: http://gov.ca.gov/press-release/14519/. Most of the policies were designed to increase children’s physical activity! This focus on getting California kids active is very welcome. The policies cover a wide range of issues, including simplifying funding for joint use agreements, targeting Safe Routes to Schools funding to disadvantaged communities, and requiring 30 minutes of daily physical activity in after-school programs.
Of particular interest is the proposed law to require 50% of PE classes to be spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) by 2013. This has been a public health objective for decades, but has never been adopted by a state. If passed, this bill could start a national trend to align public health and education goals. The goal of PE has always been to “teach through the physical” so I expect this law to help PE meet its multiple goals. Requiring 50% MVPA will stimulate teachers to find ways of teaching skills and knowledge through activity, in a way that will meet the current health needs of children.
Even when the bill passes, there is a long way to go to effective implementation. Between now and 2013, the PE community and public health advocates will need to work hard, work smart, and work together to obtain the funding needed to train teachers, adopt curricula, and develop practical accountability systems required to bring highly active PE classes to all California students. We will have to be sure that improvements are made in the low-resource schools that have the poorest quality PE now. But the effort will be worth it. More-active PE will be great for California children’s health and academic performance. This will be a big step toward defeating childhood obesity. I believe that highly-active PE classes will be seen as an improvement in quality by school administrators, parents, and legislators. Improving quality is a strong foundation for increasing PE minutes per week and bringing PE to all high school students.
Please write to the Governor and your representatives in Sacramento expressing your support for these bills that will help California children become more active and healthy. Make sure the professional and civic organizations you belong to support these bills. This is a great opportunity for California physical activity and physical education advocates, so let’s make sure the bills are passed, then work for the funding and support to implement them throughout the State. If you are not in California, then recommend your state’s leaders adopt the same, or even better, measures to improve children’s physical activity. Let’s see which state will win!