Getting Kids Active: Physical Activity in Schools

Oct 31, 2012, 10:30 AM

Children exercise in a classroom in Clinton Park Elementary School, Mississippi.

Get kids active now and often was the message at a session on childhood obesity at the American Public Health Association 2012 Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

"Students are not getting enough exercise," said Christina Economos as she opened the session, though "physical education develops skills." Childhood Obesity 180 created the Active School Acceleration Project, which works to promote exercise inside as well as outside of school.

The Active Schools Acceleration Project works to increase quality physical activity in schools to combat childhood obesity and to get the beneficial health, behavioral, and academic outcomes that follow. American children today experience far fewer daily opportunities for movement and exercise because there is a decreased emphasis on physical activity in schools.

Economos noted that physical education is often one of the first programs to go following school budget cuts. Their goal is to reverse the trend of childhood obesity, one generation at a time—the benefits of which, aside from healthier, longer lives, include improved academic performance in school. This makes childhood obesity prevention a priority for schools, despite strapped budgets.

Economos and her team developed a four-pronged process—to find innovation, identify best practices, support existing and start up new interventions, and make plans for long term sustainability. They looked at grassroots programs in local schools as well as established national movements. The result was an "American Idol" type contest to solicit entries that showcase best practices for encouraging vigorous physical activity among students.

The ultimate goal is to showcase the best approaches to physical activity in schools. Practitioners hope to influence school policy change on physical activity from the bottom up.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.