After a multi-year struggle to have the Virginia General Assembly pass legislation mandating physical education in schools as an antidote to the growing problem of chilhood obesity, advocacy groups reported a small victory Tuesday.
Despite the governor's veto of SB471, introduced by state Sen. Ralph Northam, D-Norfolk, a pediatric neurologist, its companion bill, HB 1092, sponsored by neurologist Del. John O'Bannon, R-Henrico, has been negotiated with the governor and will return to the legislature for a vote next week. It's expected to pass both houses and be signed into law.
Nearly one in three children in Virginia is overweight or obese. The associated health-care costs topped $1.6 billion in 2003, including $374 million in Medicaid expenses, according to a joint statement by the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association.
The returning bill calls for the Virginia Board of Education to promulgate guidelines to incorporate physical education into the state's elementary and middle schools. "It's a baby step," says Aimee Seibert, spokeswoman for the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has also advocated for healthy snacks in schools. "We really want the younger children to get educated about physical education. We're taking a holistic approach. Schools are where they spend so much of their day."
In the past, opposition to the requirement for 30 minutes of daily PE came from different sources, including those representing rural areas where not all schools have gyms. "There are a lot of ways to incorporate physical activities in instruction," says Seibert. Williamsburg-James City County school system, for example, has adopted a School Health Initiative Program that incorporates physical activity into the core curriculum.
The main concession in HB 1092 is that it does not mandate the PE — the health advocacy groups are urging 150 minutes of PE weekly — but instead directs the Board of Education to create a blueprint for elementary and middle schools to follow.
"Virginia Beach already does it. It could serve as a model," says Siebert. "Research studies show that kids that have physical activity during the day benefit not just physically, but in better studying and academic success."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun