Is Your Child Getting Enough Exercise at School?

America's young children may not be getting enough exercise through their schools' physical education (PE) programs, suggests a February 2003 study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

The 814 third grade children in the study, who attended 648 schools across the country, received an average of 25 minutes per week in school of moderate to vigorous activity. Experts in the U.S. have recommended that children should participate in physical activity of at least moderate intensity for 30 to 60 minutes each day.

The current analysis of school PE activities for third graders taking part in the NICHD Study of Early Child Care, appears in the February Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

"Obesity and lack of physical fitness in our young children may set the stage for diabetes, heart disease, and other serious health problems later in life," said Duane Alexander, M.D., director of the NICHD. "President Bush, Secretary Thompson and all of us in HHS are committed to doing more to promote active, healthier lifestyles, especially for our children. This study provides important information for parents and school systems to take into account when devising physical education programs for children in their districts."

The authors noted that PE programs vary greatly at the state and local level, with allotted time for classes ranging from 30 minutes per week to 150 minutes per week. Fears that increasing physical activity might have a negative impact on academic performance are unfounded, according to the authors. Earlier studies, published by others, had shown that increasing the length of time in PE classes and the intensity of physical activity in the classes did not have a detrimental effect on academic achievement.

The study also reiterated findings by other researchers that boys spent a greater percentage of class time in moderate to vigorous physical activity (38.3 percent) than did girls (35.6 percent). In addition to calling for more vigorous PE for all children, the authors also called for improvements in the curriculum of PE classes to encourage girls to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity.

From a February 2003 press release from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development

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