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Obesity boot camps versus physical education in schools

Posted Mar 21 2010 12:00am

Obesity boot camps are not the answer to the nation’s childhood obesity problem, according to Deborah J. Rhea, associate professor in the department of kinesiology at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX.

“Many programs have developed out of a desire to take advantage of the money that can be made from the obesity epidemic,” she writes in the March 2010 issue of the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. “Many of these camps are designed to get kids in shape in a six-to 10-week period, but they are short-term fixes, just like diets.”

“Short-term camps will not work in the long term. It takes at least six months of continual practice to create a behavior change.”

The thing that will work is having physical education classes in school, she says, provided that it is taught correctly. Increasingly, however, physical education is not taught at all.

“The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), American Heart Association and many others have been talking for at least 10 years about…the lack of physical activity during the school day,” Dr. Rhea writes. “However, they have run into many roadblocks from school administrators and state officials who have reduced health and physical education class time or taken the courses out of the curriculum completely.”

She says that physical education classes can slim down America’s children if schools:

• Teach nutrition and healthy eating habits regularly.
• Teach why it is important to be physically active now, not 20 years from now.
• Give children a variety of physical activities to choose from so they can decide which they would be successful in and enjoy.
• Continually impress on children the importance of physical activity developing for brain power and physical power.

Rhea notes that in the last four years, 47,447 potential U.S. Army recruits flunked their physicals because they were overweight, according to Defense Department figures. Spokesmen for firefighters and police departments also have complained about obesity problems among candidates, pointing to a need for lifestyle changes conducive to weight loss and weight normalization.

She also cites a 2006 CDC study showing that over a 20-year span the prevalence of obesity increased from five to 12 percent in two-to five-year-olds, from 6.5 percent to 17 percent in six-to-11 year-olds, and from five to 18 percent in 12-to-19 year-olds.

In the past year, however, three key voices have joined the fight against obesity and Dr. Rhea hopes their efforts will help slim down America. One is the US. Army. A second is the National Football League. The third is first lady Michelle Obama.

“As part of the NFL’s youth health and fitness campaign, ‘Keep Gym in School’ is NFL Network’s program to boost fitness and physical education in America’s middle schools,” says Rhea.

This year the NFL will work directly with more than 150 schools through school adoptions, grants and fitness programs.

Michelle Obama’s initiative to combat childhood obesity, begun in February, also should be an important spur to the effort to highlight the dangers of being overweight, Rhea says.

“These three voices are beginning to wake up America,” Rhea believes. “The obesity problem did not happen overnight and will not change overnight but having the backing of The White House, the NFL and the armed forces definitely helps” (Newswise).

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