Take Steps to Counter Youth Obesity
THIS ARTICLE: Many American school children are overweight, but
now schools are introducing physical fitness programmes to counter
the problem of teenage obesity .----Editor
Take Amanda Bush's school, North Park Elementary. In 1989, only
2 percent of the students could pass a fitness test that included
a mile run, situps, sit-and-reach (to measure flexibility), and
pull-ups. (The standards differ according to age and gender.) Lincoln
Elementary, a school where nearly the entire student population
receives federal free lunches, had an even worse showing: No one
could pass the fitness tests.
But over the past eight years, as students spent more time in PE
with certified instructors who helped them work on specific fitness
skills--including social cooperation and teamwork--the scores began
to tell a different story.
In 1996, 40 percent at North Park passed the fitness tests. It was
even higher at Lincoln: 55 percent. Districtwide, a third of the
elementary students met the fitness standards.
The PE specialists attribute their successes to a holistic approach,
one that emphasizes not only the physical, but the social skills
that children need to work cooperatively. Gradually, PE specialists
like Abbie Flanagan, who works full time at Lincoln, have convinced
the children that offering each other support, praise, even guidance,
is preferable to name-calling. They have come a long, long way,
Flanagan says. Gone are street-tough taunts and put-downs. "They
tended to be very aggressive," she says. A recent Frisbee-throwing
exercise at Lincoln testified to Flanagan's approach. About 30 fourth-graders
stood some distance from their partners, practising the four-step
exercise involved in accurately slicing a Frisbee above the parched
Compliments like "Good try!" and "Nice one, man!"
flew through the air as frequently as the Frisbees. Only one negative
comment was audible during 15 minutes of play. A boy chastised himself
for a ditched pitch but was quickly soothed by his partner's "That's
Lisa Font, 9, who demonstrated the Frisbee throw for her classmates,
waved happily to a visitor as the class lined up quietly to return
to class. She was the incarnation of confidence, this chunky, smiling
girl, no star athlete, but a typical child who, years ago, might
have been left behind in the old win-lose version of PE. Today,
under Flanagan's tutelage, she is very much a winner. Before she
marched off, Font quietly raised her fist, smiled, and offered this:
"Never give up!"