Study shows relationship between obesity and P.E.


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Iowa City schools recognize that physical education is still a significantly important part of the district’s curriculum after President Obama recently declared September as National Obesity Awareness Month.

While some states have requirements for the number of minutes students spend in PE classes, others require the class but do not have a minimum minute requirement.

A study released last month found the majority of U.S. elementary schools do not meet state mandates for the number of minutes students should participate in physical education classes.

“These minimum minute requirements helped to increase the amount of time in PE and reduce childhood obesity,” said David Frisvold, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Iowa and coauthor of the study. “These requirements did that, but compliance with these requirements was not perfect.”

Frisvold said states with requirements like Iowa’s often spend significantly less time in PE than states that do have minute requirements.

“Those types of requirements that don’t have a [minimum] number of minutes are equivalent to not requiring PE at all,” he said.

Jan Grenko Lehman, a PE coordinator for the Iowa City schools, said in the district, kindergarteners engage in 50 minutes a week. First- through fourth-graders are in classes for 75 minutes a week, and fifth- through sixth-graders for 100 minutes a week.

Frisvold said many schools in the country have cut the amount of time spent in PE classes over the years in order to emphasize standardized test results. However, Iowa City schools have not followed this trend.

“I think we feel fortunate in Iowa City that PE is valued,” Grenko Lehman said. “Our administrators and teachers, they value it and understand it is important for students to move throughout the day.”

Karen Bagby, a PE teacher at Garner Elementary, said activity has a positive effect on students.

“Physical activity helps control ADHD,” Bagby said. “It has a lot to do with behavior and academics. There are definite correlations between the body and brain.”

Despite the districts’ efforts, the Iowa is ranked by Trust for America’s Health as the 13th most obese state in the United States.

According to Susie Poulton, director of health services for the district, about 18 percent of elementary students in Iowa City schools are obese or at risk of being obese.

“The fact that we have so many obese adults puts kids at risk of becoming obese,” she said. “We see it in families. It could be genetics, but also lifestyle and dietary habits. Definitely, Iowa children are more at risk.”

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