Why Is the Obesity Epidemic in Our Schools Not Going Anywhere?
How does the average American child spend their day? Are they outside playing tag and swinging on the monkey bars for hours? Or are they playing the latest computer and video games all night? A recent study by the journal Health Affairs finds that fewer than one in three American children get enough exercise every week. Unfortunately, if they don’t become more active, more than eight million will be obese by their 18th birthdays. When children are not encouraged to eat healthy foods and be active, they may be more at risk for childhood obesity. Furthermore, the implications go beyond childhood, extending to high risk for major health issues and costly medical bills. Therefore, the obesity epidemic is an issue our nation needs to address, starting with creating solutions within our K-12 education system.
Does Technology make kids more sedentary?
There are many factors that may contribute to the growing obesity issue. One cause is that schools have less time and budget for physical education, recess, and after-school sports. In addition, many teachers are relying increasingly on videos and computer programs/apps as teaching aids. On average, children are getting nine hours of screen time a day. We can’t deny that technology is useful and, when utilized correctly, can be a powerful education tool. However, when used too much or incorrectly, it can increase sedentary habits. Teachers will often use technology through laptops or videos to enhance a lesson. While this may benefit some learners, when used too much, it can become problematic. For example, some students require accessibility accommodations and others simply do not learn well via the visual or auditory approaches used in most technology.
What is this costing us?
The obesity epidemic is expensive, to say the least. A 2016 study by the University of Washington found that annual medical spending attributed to obesity nationally was nearly $150 billion — more than four times the federal budget for foreign aid. It can also cost the individual hundred of thousands of dollars and create additional unwanted health issues that cost even more.
What can we do?
When we increase physical activity in education, we can decrease the obesity rate and the immense cost our nation faces. Researchers have found that increasing the percentage of children who exercise regularly to 50 percent would cut the adult obesity rate and save nearly $22 billion in medical costs. This means getting at least three out of four kids active would save more than $40 billion. One way to start this process would be to implement policies that encourage aspects of physical education beyond just gym class.
Math & Movement recognizes the importance of combining physical activity with math and literacy programs. When kids are hopping around on mats while learning multiplication, they are being active and improving their fitness. This approach also helps learners who are kinesthetic and do not benefit as much from sitting still and playing computer games. When we encourage students at a young age in school to be physically active, then they will adopt healthy habits. That way, we can make the obesity rate budge!