It seemed like a good idea at the time: To improve basic academic skills of America's school children, who were falling behind pupils in most other industrialized nations, why not make more time for classroom learning by cutting back on physical education?
Well, the answer to that question is now in. Many states, including Georgia and South Carolina, did just that over the past five to 10 years, and what they're finding out is that the lack of physical activity is making our young people obese, physically unfit and less healthy - more susceptible to diabetes and other illnesses. Data show that kids today are much less fit than kids of the 1980s.
And as if that wasn't bad enough, because their bodies aren't as fit as they should be, neither are their minds. Hence, the time U.S. pupils have been spending in the classrooms at the expense of Phys. Ed. hasn't improved their academic standings after all. In fact, it's harder for out-of-conditioned pupils to learn. A flagging body makes for an unalert brain.
Clearly, cutting physical education, in whole or in part, from public schools' curricula was a mistake - a mistake that the legislatures in both the Peach and Palmetto states are poised to remedy. Let's hope they don't have any second thoughts on that score.
Even though bad diets rightfully draw some of the blame for unhealthy lifestyles, physical fitness experts say that, especially among young people, the problem is best dealt with by more physical exercise - even an hour a day in school would help a lot.
Giving important impetus to pumping up physical fitness in our two-state area is Policy Leadership for Active Youth. This group is a consortium of researchers from three Georgia universities, including the Medical College of Georgia. Using a grant from the Georgia Health Care Foundation, they are releasing recommendations to lawmakers on how to approach physical fitness programs for our youth.
A number of the physical fitness studies were done in Augusta after-school programs which showed, not surprisingly, that long periods of physical activity improved both fitness and health.
The studies also indicate - and this is very important - that if schools still feel they cannot afford to yield any academic time to physical education, then they should lengthen the school day to make time for an hour or so of energetic exercise.
Lengthening the school day would be well worth the effort in terms of both time and cost. If our kids deserve the very best education we can give them - and they do - then we must first be sure they are as healthy in body and mind as we can possibly make them.