Let’s start with the good news…

Dr. Deb Galuska has a really long title. 

That’s not the good news.

Dr. Deb Galuska is the Associate Director of Science, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity at the Center for Disease Control.

Still not the good news.

The good news is that she recently said, “Across the whole spectrum of kids what we’re seeing…is a slowing down and stabilization (of obesity rates)” (1). 

That’s good news. 

Well, presumably. Not exactly a victory but at least the trend lines of childhood obesity aren’t getting worse. Which is more than we could say 5 years ago. Evidence that initiatives like Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Active Schools have been successful at calling attention to our national crisis. They’ve sparked a conversation, which is awesome. And they’re offering solutions, which is even more awesome.

But we have to be careful, because even if the story is not getting worse, it remains awfully bleak:

  • imagesChildhood obesity is 3 times higher than when our parents were kids (2).
  • One in three children in the United States are overweight or obese (3). One in three. 
  • Kids now spend more than 7.5 hours per day in front of a screen (4). (What the WHAT?) 

Here’s the real clincher…

  • Two out of three kids aren’t moving enough (5).

Let me say that again. Two out of three kids in the United States are not meeting the national recommendation of at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

Yikes.

Inactivity has reached epidemic proportions in America. There is still much work to be done. 

As frightening as the statistics are, they make sense.

Our schools are being handed a difficult task. Prepping student for our globally competitive marketplace, academic pressure is at all all time high. Policy demands have led to increased classroom time for standardized testing. Combined with teacher layoffs, lack of equipment, and anemic funding, phys ed is often the first class on the cutting blocks.   

Old school policy makers look at education like a zero-sum game where physical education takes a backseat to “core curriculum” classes like math and science. After all, the more time kids spend in gym class, they claim, the less time they’re studying statistics and biology. But, of course, old school creed is so…old school. The new school approach, reinforced by our more complete understanding of statistics and biology, shows a strong correlation between physical activity and academic success. Our mental and physical development, it turns out, aren’t mutually exclusive (6). Plenty of studies prove that even brief bouts of exercise can have a profound effect on information processing and memory function (6, 7, 8, 9, all of google). 

Karate-Baby-WebIt makes sense. Our brain responds to physical activity just like all of the other muscles in our body. Physical activity creates a happy, healthy, oxygen rich, growth inducing environment and our brain benefits as much as our biceps. The truth is more holistic than our out dated policies: what is good for the body is also good for the test scores.

If improved cognitive function isn’t enough, the World Health Organization has also proven that physical activity can help prevent risky behaviors like smoking, drug & alcohol use, unhealthy eating, violence, antisocial behaviors, and pregnancy. The report concludes “There is a clear consensus that children and youth should be involved in physical activity on a regular basis, and that teaching/reward systems should encourage active participation and enjoyment by all students, not just the highly skilled” (10).

And then there’s the financial cost of our short-sightedness. Obesity and the lack of physical activity is crushing our health care system and it’s only getting worse. It is estimated that obesity will cost the United States $344 billion in medical-related expenses by 2018 (11). To put that number in perspective, we saved about $3 billion in the 2013 budget cuts for all of education in the United States (12). We’re saving pennies on phys ed to spend dollars on the consequences. 

It is scary to face this reality when we all seem to agree that kids deserve to be active. Ninety-five % (!) of parents think that daily physical activity helps children do better academically and should be part of a school curriculum for all students in grades K-12 (11). And the experts are screaming as well – kids need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day – not necessarily all at once, cause that’s not how kids move, but cumulatively (6). Movement is not a nicety, it’s a necessity.   

When it comes to physical activity for our kids, it feels like our policies don’t align with our priorities.   

flexIt’s hard to imagine a healthier future without reimagining the way we educate our next generation about physical activity. We have to do a better job. While childhood obesity is a complex issue, childhood inactivity is straightforward. If we don’t continue to make noise around the issue and make movement a priority, we’re going to watch our nation become paralyzed by its own weight. 

So what’s on the agenda? 

  • We have to continue to assert physical education as a cornerstone of childhood development. ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) – signed by President Obama on December 10th, 2015 was a big victory – acknowledging phys ed as part of a student’s “well-rounded” education. The bill uses the term “well-rounded education” to replace the term “core subjects” that was used in previous Elementary and Secondary Education Act proposals. ESSA is a big win because school districts will now have the opportunity to utilize federal funds for physical education programs — something that was limited under No Child Left Behind. But school districts still have to apply for funding and we, as students, parents, and community members have to continue to make it known that this is a meaningful priority. (14)
  • We have to continue to get organized. Federal and state government, as well as local school systems need to come up with common language, data systems, and minimum requirements. We’re stronger together. We can share resources, policies, and solutions. Like our body and brain, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • We have to continue to come up with creative ways to make sure physical education is an inclusive environment. The trick is to challenge high achievers while gym-class-track-kids-Getty-Imagessimultaneously teaching all students that physical activity is essential to an awesome life. All bodies have to move. And the better we’re able to move, the better we’ve able to live. Nike likes to say, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” All kids are athletes and need to be educated accordingly.
  • As awareness of and demand for childhood activity increases, there is big business opportunity for companies to step into the space with technology that makes physical activity fun and accessible. This would also allow us to monitor physical activity in more efficient ways which could be an effective call-to-action for state and national funding. Our obsession with technology isn’t going anywhere. While some might like to point to it as part of the problem, the truth is, it can also be part of the solution.

What Can You Do To Help Right Now??

Let’s Move! Active Schools is a one-stop shop for vetted and evidence-based info. Check out https://myactiveschool.letsmoveschools.org to become a champion of your local school (which is basically like being a superhero.) You can assess how much your school is moving and get a customized Action Plan to step up your game. 

WORKS CITED

  1. http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/06/politics/michelle-obamas-lets-move-turns-5-is-it-working/
  2. National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2011: With Special Features on Socioeconomic Status and Health [pdf 9.4M]. Hyattsville, MD; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2012.
  3. Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. Journal of the American Medical Association 2014;311(8):806-814.
  4. http://www.zdnet.com/article/study-american-kids-spend-7-5-hours-per-day-using-electronics/
  5. National Association for Sport and Physical Education. The Fitness Equation: Physical Activity + Balanced Diet = Fit Kids. Reston, VA: National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 1999.
  6. http://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/health_and_academics/pdf/pa-pe_paper.pdf
  7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12595152
  8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25266425
  9. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/08/how-exercise-can-boost-the-childs-brain/
  10. https://www.icsspe.org/sites/default/files/PhysicalActivity.pdf
  11. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/weightloss/2009-11-17-future-obesity-costs_N.htm
  12. http://www.sparkpe.org/blog/implications-of-removing-physical-education-from-school/
  13. http://www.shapeamerica.org/advocacy/son/2012/upload/2012-Shape-of-the-Nation-Executive-Summary.pdf
  14. http://www.shapeamerica.org/pressroom/2015/every-student-succeeds-act-passes.cfm

Join the conversation. I’m still learning as much as I can about the issue and I hope you will too. Comment below with thoughts and insight. Like all of the important social issues we face today, conversation is an excellent first step and a powerful agent for change.

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  • LSUGrad35

    Solid post Rob! I believe strongly in this. In two things really. 1. If health and fitness is important to you, your kids will learn it and love it. 2. Parents have to understand that kids can’t make their own healthy decisions. It’s your responsibility as a parent to feed them appropriately. Drives me crazy…I’ll be single until I find a future baby mama that agrees with this…#BandanaArmy

    • BandanaTraining

      Healthy, active baby mamas wanted. =) #BandanaArmy

  • Tracy B

    I don’t know if it’s our school district, the state, or a nationwide issue, but recess has been cut dramatically from elementary school. My 4th grader gets 1 15 minute recess per day and that’s after a 15 minute lunch period! How wrong is that. Schools are being forced to do more testing on students that it cuts into regular learning time AND recess. Recess is essential for kids to be able to focus while in the class! You can’t expect a 7-10 year old child to sit and learn all day without distraction. They need a brain break…that’s what recess provides. At home is a different story. It all about video games and social media…even the young kids. Limit screen time and get them out on their bikes and interacting socially face to face with their friends!

    • BandanaTraining

      Hey Tracy. So true. I WAS that kid who couldn’t sit still. If my parents didn’t direct all of that energy towards sports and activity, I would have been a Tasmanian Devil. And I agree – parents obviously have the strongest influence on the health of their kids, but I think we can attack the problem from all angles – with local school districts as well as state and national policy helping out.

  • Nick McKinney

    Hey Rob, my wife and I ran a children’s fitness center for 3 years in the Nashville, TN area. Tennessee has one of the largest childhood obesity rates in the country. We focused on active play which helped kids get active while playing games they can understand. I’m so glad to see you are looking into this area! I’d love to help you if I can, you continue to inspire me and my wife on our fitness journey! #bandanaarmy #brohugs

    • BandanaTraining

      Hey Nick. Good stuff man. Yea, I totally agree – play is where it’s at. As adults, it’s easy for us to forget that movement is fun. I’ll definitely be talking about this more and hopefully coming up with some creative ways for us to continue to make a difference. Thanks for reading. Keep fighting the good fight. #BandanaArmy

  • black

    I was just talking about this. The kids at the end of the street have motorized scooters. My kids have push with your leg scooters. My kids feel like they are missing out, when in reality they are better off. #BandanaArmy

    • BandanaTraining

      legs > motors #BandanaArmy

  • David

    Great article, the kids definitely need to get moving more and put down the video games, at least in the day time.

    Another just as important part with obesity is the addiction to sugar or diet. I think a big part of our job as health professionals is to educate as many as we can on how to train and give families guidelines to follow for diet.

    That’s what we can control Rob, what we can’t control
    at the moment is when the kids leave the home and eat at school. School breakfast and lunch are shit, plain and simple. Candy upon candy, juice upon juice, pizza upon pizza. They have fast food chains in them now. Combine that diet with lack of inactivity, and poor genetics = obesity. We have to do something about the school food as well as the activity.

    Great article as always, keep making the world a better place,

    Bro hugz

    David Scott
    CSCS
    CPT

    • BandanaTraining

      Totally agree. It’s a multifaceted issue that is going to require problem solving on many fronts.

  • This is exactly why I’ve followed you for years. Not only do you care about your clients, but you also care about making the world a healthier place. It might be too hard to make a reality, but I’ve always imagined that schools should have gardens on the premises to grow food to serve at lunch. For easier steps though, recess definitely needs to be brought back to the younger grades. When I was younger we had about an hour outside and now kids in some schools only get 10 minutes. That’s a shame.

    • BandanaTraining

      That’s very kind of you to say. Yes, I’m definitely spending more and more time thinking about the bigger picture. I just read the other day that there are over 7,000 school gardens across the nation and they sound so rad. I hope the trend continues to spread.

  • Jovon Yanez

    I can really go on forever about not just the problem with childhood obesity but just our society in general at the moment. But I’ll try to keep it short.

    As a child I’d mainly play outside, go swimming, ride bikes etc etc. I’m a child of the 80s, so I did have a super Nintendo growing up. But I never played it for 8 hours straight. I don’t really know when it all shifted to binging entertainment. But now marathoning shows/games is the norm. Eating nothing but hot pockets or other freezer treats is the norm. There’s a lot of reasons for that. But mainly parents now a days need to be educated on the adverse effects of these habbits. All to often at the grocery store I see a mom and kids with a shopping cart filled to the rim with nothing but crap. Not one fresh piece of produce not one lean meat. It makes me so sick to see this, it makes me sad. I won’t say how they look or how they are actually paying for all this (really ticks me off) but it’s always the same profile. Parents need to put there foot down. Parents need to be educated. Parents need to care more. I have a 4 year old son myself and I know it’s tough to get kids to eat certain things. But it’s not impossible. I’m glad there is a little shift in this country where health and wellness is being viewed as “trendy” hopefully it can keep growing and more families can lead healthier lives.

    • BandanaTraining

      I hear you Jovon. I think education is a HUGE part of the solution. Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Mos does a nice job of illustrating the various ways in which large food companies perpetuate this mass consumption. I wish spinach and brussels sprouts had the same marketing budget as Coca Cola – now that’s a world I want to live in.

      • Jovon Yanez

        It definitely can rob, it definitely can. If the consumer demands anything, more money will be there waiting. Just take a look at how most milk is now from cows not treated with rBsts. It’s possible, and I am always trying to inform anybody willing to listen.

  • Matt

    Thanks for the discussion Rob!
    To me healthy habits and behaviors start at home. As a father of 2 teenage boys that have seen me work out every day and eat for nutrition, I have seen a major impact on their habits. Although they still play video games because, lets face it they’re fun, they tend to offset their binging with healthy activities. They still eat garbage but it’s a fairly moderate amount and I do the cooking so everything else they eat is high on the nutrition scale. Kids do what they see at home. Change parental habits and all of a sudden you have healthy kids. The obesity epidemic has to be addressed at home in my opinion.

    • BandanaTraining

      Hey Matt. Yea, I’m with ya – healthy parents tend to raise healthy kids (and it sounds like you’re an excellent case study.) This makes our kids health and inactivity the symptom of a larger (adult) problem. But ultimately tackling such a hefty epidemic requires a campaign on all fronts. I believe the solution is going to come from some sort of balance between personal and public responsibility.

    • Jovon Yanez

      Great to hear another dad taking responsibility. My son often sees me hitting iron, and he mimics.

  • Frank Hopper

    #bandanaarmy great article and I am totally with you! Alarming and heartbreaking. I work for GO! St. Louis a nonprofit and we have a program called the read right run marathon that involves thousands of elementary students running 26 miles over the course of a couple months. Check it out. http://gostlouis.org/community/read-right-run-marathon/

    • BandanaTraining

      Good stuff Frank. Thanks for sharing and keep up the solid work.

  • Mary Stokes

    Hi Rob. As a nurse in a childcare facility, I saw kids coming into our system gaining about 10-30# in a matter of months. The social workers thought it was because they were malnourished from neglect and we’re finally able go get three plus meals a day. But I saw that their BMIs were normal upon admission, and that they became overweight, and obese, while in our care. The government approved, and mandated, diet they were given was heavy on carbohydrates. Their school and facility schedules left them very little time to exercise. I saw hypertension, high triglycerides, and high cholesterol levels in these kids. I became the voice crying in the wilderness for the benefit of the kids and their health by asking for more physical activity time, and a diet with more complex carbs to replace the chips, etc. Their mental health took priority with my colleagues, and their physical health (which I believe has a great impact on mental health) took last place unfortunately.

    • BandanaTraining

      Wow. This story is insane to me and such a clear example of how institutional policy can be so influential AND how we tend to detach our mental from our physical health. Thank you for sharing, Mary. I know it’s not an easy battle, but have you made any headway?

  • Jonathan Angelilli

    Great post Rob.

    • BandanaTraining

      Thank you my fellow ninja.

  • Lee Brown

    This is a subject close to my heart. I feel like I may have failed my older son in this area and I want to prevent this with my younger boy. Thank you for posting this and for the resources included. #bandanaarmy #nationalsuperheroday

    • BandanaTraining

      Hi Lee. I’m glad this article connected. I don’t think it’s ever too late to do what’s right for our health or for our loved ones and simply because we can do better in the future does not mean we’ve failed the past. Keep fighting the good fight. #StaySuper

      • Lee Brown

        You’re a rock solid human being Rob. Keep being you!

  • Violet Mecum

    Well, I may or may not have just read every blog on your site. I should probably get back to work now. Thanks for being awesome. #bandanaarmy

    • BandanaTraining

      Well shoot. That’s pretty cool. Just outta curiosity…did you have a favorite? Thank YOU for being awesome Violet. #BandanaArmy

      • Violet Mecum

        I can’t pick just one favorite!

        1) “Calorie Counting” – I’m just relieved to hear an expert say how I feel about it. It becomes easier to chose more packaged and processed foods because their facts are listed, and thats just not right. I get overwhelmed trying to over-analyze every gram of brussels sprouts that I would like to put in my mouth, and then I just end up saying “f*ck it” then I feel like a failure. So, I steer clear of counting.

        2) “Carbs and Fatness” – I totally geeked out over this post and googled every term I didn’t know to learn as much as I could, so thank you times a million for such a thoughtful and thorough platform to jump off of when it comes to learning more. (also, the bathtub analogy… priceless)

        3) “Perfectionism” – I wrote “You told yourself you would; therefore you must” into my planner, and copied the whole “I grind, I get” segment into my fitness log. And then I just ended up bookmarking the whole post.

        4) The Open Letter – I am just getting to the point where exercise/fitness/wellness has taken over my life; where it feels less like a program and more just like living life to the fullest. So there were a lot of things that resonated in that post.

        The only downside of reading them all is now there is no more. Struggling with pulling the trigger on Shred Kitchen cuz of the price tag. But it feels pretty inevitable at this point, I’m sure its worth it. I have 8 zillion questions when it comes to supplements.
        #BandanaArmy