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U.S. Schools Need To Pump Up Physical Education, Report Warns

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Despite reams of evidence suggesting that U.S. students need to be running, jumping, swimming, and sweating more, too many schools haven't put physical education into the starting curricular lineup, a new report concludes.

With increasingly tougher academic requirements and with more time spent at a computer than in the gym, a growing number of students are becoming "high-tech couch potatoes," says the report from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

"Most states are not living up to recommendations ... to require daily, quality physical education for all students in kindergarten through 12th grade," warns the state-by-state survey released last week by the group, which represents the nation's physical education teachers.

Illinois is the only state that requires all students to take daily physical education classes or participate in after-school activities that promote fitness. Since the survey was last conducted by the Reston, Va.-based organization in 1993, Hawaii, Kentucky, and Rhode Island have eliminated their daily requirements.

Forty-seven states require some physical education for students, while three--Colorado, Mississippi, and South Dakota--have no such mandates at all.

Nationwide, most high school students must take only one year of physical education to graduate, and many states allow that requirement to be waived for medical or religious reasons or for students who participate in sports or marching band.

Surgeon General's Warning

"We're not meeting the call for having quality physical education across all school levels," said NASPE Executive Director Judith C. Young. "We have so many things to do in education that people tend to think that physical education is not as much of a priority as other things. ... But it is just as important and can actually improve achievement."

A report last year from the U.S. surgeon general's office found that nearly half of young people ages 12 to 21 are not physically active on a regular basis and urged that daily activity be provided in school. It was one of several reports by federal health agencies and private organizations in recent years that called for schools to do more to keep children physically fit.

In states that mandate physical education, the time students spend in those classes ranges from 50 minutes to 200 minutes a week in elementary school, and 55 to 275 minutes a week in middle school, the NASPE report says.

Some officials responding to the survey expressed optimism that physical education is becoming more of a priority in their states. More than a dozen states report that state frameworks or standards have been or are being drafted in the subject.

Copies of the report, "Shape of the Nation," are available for $4.50 each from NASPE at (800) 321-0789.

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