Today was the end of the year awards ceremony at my daughter’s school. A seventh grade boy, whom I love dearly, read a persuasive essay he had written about why they should have physical education class for 60 minutes a day every day. His arguments ranged from health to curricular requirements, and the crowd of parents cheered his speech.
Unfortunately, recent studies in Europe have concluded physical education in schools makes no difference at all.
As schools face budget cuts and pressure from high stakes standardized testing, PE and recess are programs that are often cut. Congress has responded by allocating $320 million in grants to restore physical education programs in our schools.
A recent study in the UK calls into question the assumption that PE classes are essential for children’s health. Equipping children with ActiGraphs, the study found that PE classes mattered less than we think. According to Time Magazine:
The findings are remarkable: No matter how much P.E. they got during school hours, by the end of the day, the kids from the three schools had moved around about the same amount, at about the same intensity. The kids at the fancy private school underwent significantly more physical activity before 3 p.m. than the kids at the other two schools, but overall, when you look at entire days, they got no more activity. “Once they get home, if they are very active at school, they are probably staying still a bit more because they’ve already expended so much energy,” says Alissa Frémeaux, a biostatistician who was the primary analyst on the data. “The others are more likely to grab a bike and run around after school, or maybe join a sports club.”
It all balances out. Kids that don’t get enough exercise in school make up for it when they get home, but is this really true? What about the couch potato, video game playing kid? I just can’t accept this conclusion!
Time concludes that exercise does make you healthier and lowers your risk of diseases, but the real culprit is diet.
The new research comports with a growing body of data saying that exercise by itself has far less to do with your body mass than you think. In short, it’s the calories, stupid. You can exercise all you want, which will surely make you healthier — reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes and dementia, for instance — but unless you eat better, or less, it may do nothing to make you thin. All that money we have spent to get kids into P.E. might be better spent helping schools to serve fresh fruits and vegetables at lunch instead of tater tots.