While it is easy to get people to agree that we want our children to be healthier, the real challenge comes with the “how.” Recognizing that challenge, advocates with the Washington State’s Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition have taken an incremental approach to help make an ironclad case for increased physical education standards in that state’s schools.
In Washington, where almost one in four children are at an increased risk of developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, a lack of physical inactivity continues to be a serious health concern that negatively impacts children there. And while students in Grades 1-8 are required to have an average of at least one hundred instructional minutes of PE per week throughout the year, and high school students are required to complete one credit of physical education to graduate, those state requirements fall short of current national standards for physical education.
While physical education requirements in Washington are at least something that can be built on to further improve opportunities to help children grow up at a healthy weight, there are no statewide reporting requirements for the current physical education standards so it is impossible to know to what extent schools are complying with those standards. Victor Colman, the director of the Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition, says that the lack of information makes it challenging to make improvement in physical education standards.
“Before we even get to the ‘what should be,’ we need to have a better understanding of the ‘what is,’” he says.
To create a better understanding of what is occurring in the schools in terms of physical education the coalition supported legislation in 2017 that will require, starting in the 2018-19 school year, schools to report annually on 10 key factors related to their physical education programs.
Among the information that will be reported will be the number of individual students who complete a physical education class during the school year; the average number of minutes per week of physical education received by students in grades one through eight; the number of students granted waivers from physical education requirements; whether through policy or procedure, a school district routinely modifies and adapts its physical education curriculum for students with disabilities; and an indication of whether the district routinely excludes students from physical education classes for disciplinary reasons, and others.
“We’re trying to do two things,” says Coleman. “First, confirm our suspicions that the current standards are not being met, and then second, work to get PE standards up to national levels.”
The findings will also be critically important to help determine if there are significant equity gaps in the physical education opportunities across the state. Coleman says that when it comes to helping children achieve a healthy weight, schools are a natural venue because of how much time youth spend there. They are also a key to creating lifelong behavior changes.