Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Courtney: Minnis Forcing Us to Have Fat Kids

Well, that's not quite a literal quote, and he places some of the blame on funding shortages--but I don't think there's any question Senate President Peter Courtney faults House Speaker Karen Minnis for failing to pass funded PE in Oregon schools last year. And now he has a platform of consequences to stand on: Oregon's kids are becoming more and more dangerously obese:
The report lays the blame for overweight children on a variety of causes: Two-earner families pressed for time and relying on fast and convenience food, and on restaurant meals. More "screen time" for television and games. Larger portion sizes, in restaurants and homes. Poverty, and prices rising faster for fresh foods than packaged goods. Soda and candy machines in schools. Fewer physical education classes. Car-friendly suburbs where people walk little.The Kids Count report bases its conclusions on a 2005 survey of Oregon schools conducted by the state Department of Human Services.

The Kids Count report bases its conclusions on a 2005 survey of Oregon schools conducted by the state Department of Human Services.

According to that survey, 24 percent of eighth- and 11th-graders in Oregon are overweight or obese by the standards set for adults by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A litany of excesses, only some of which the Legislature has any real control over. They certainly can't keep kids from playing video games, and they can't keep their parents from taking them to Homestyle Buffet for All You Can Eat Ribs night. They can't do much about prices, and are hectored enough as it is for opposing the car-dominant lifestyle.

But what they can do is control the school environment. Courtney doesn't mention the 2005 defeat of efforts to stem 'junk food' sales in Oregon schools* (and for a whizbang report on why they need to be stemmed, check out this review from the Northwest Earth Institute), but he zeroes in on another area of concern to schools: PE. If you're as old as I am-and I remember things like Nixon resigning--your school week included a fair bit of exercise and social embarrassment not as recreation, but something you actually got graded on. If I recall right, I had it three times a week, with one day swapped out for health class one quarter.

No more, obviously. Exercise is officially nonessential, and my elementary age kids stare at me blankly when I tell them I "dressed out" for organized recess. Like music and art, PE has become a luxury frill item in US education. Luckily, at least going without music and art doesn't set you on your way to Type II diabetes as a 12 year old. Especially in a winter climate that tends to discourage outside play, PE for Oregonian children should be one non-3Rs subject no longer considered a mere luxury.

Courtney is right to rue the death of a passed Senate bill in the House, that would have returned at least two PE hours a week to elementary kids. Recent research seems to put more emphasis on sedentarism than pure obesity as a reason for heart problems, so it's fortunate for us that getting kids active is a fully realizable goal. With possession of the House in 2007, Democrats would get a better crack at such a bill and get it passed through both camera. As with nearly any behavior, the sooner we model it to our children, the more likely we will see the results we hope for.

*Vicki Walker raises her tone-deaf head once again?