No Sweat When Gym Class Cut

ByABC News
September 25, 2003, 4:58 PM

Sept. 30, 2003 — -- Just as kids are being told to exercise more to stave off obesity and improve health, they're finding fewer opportunities to break a sweat during the school day.

Gym classes are being sacrificed across the country to save money and satisfy federal mandates stressing test scores in math and reading.

A little more than half of students nationwide are enrolled in a physical education class, and by high school only a third take gym class daily, according to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

And it's not like most kids are making up for lost gym classes by working out on their own time. More than 60 percent of children aged 9 to 13 do not participate in any organized physical activity during their non-school hours, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in August. And 23 percent do not engage in any free-time physical activity at all. Translation: Fewer kids are playing outside.

The phasing out of physical education comes at a time when doctors are warning parents and educators about the dangers of childhood obesity. Meanwhile, researchers are beginning to probe the relationship between fitness and excelling in school.

In a study conducted by the California Department of Education, higher academic achievement was associated with higher levels of fitness.

"This is something the Greeks knew," said George Ziolkowski, director of pupil personnel services at East Penn School District in Allentown, Pa., and a proponent of daily PE. "Let's start talking about how kids who are physically fit and feel better and have rest will do better in school."

Many public health experts and physicians recommend daily gym class from kindergarten through high school. But Illinois is the only state to require daily PE for all class levels.

Gym class requirements vary by state, but most states give kids ways to opt out. And the quality of physical education where it still exists, has suffered, said Paula Kun, spokesperson for the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.