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Adding an “E” to the “Three ‘Rs”

March 12, 2008

St. Paul, MN – "Go outside and play" takes on a whole new meaning in Minnesota today, as a plan to get kids into better shape goes before a legislative committee. It would put physical education classes in all schools. House sponsor John Ward says the growing numbers of overweight and obese kids have become major health, education and economic issues.

"The bill is an attempt to have our students become more physically active. We believe that an active child also is a healthy child who learns better. Is it going to be a cure-all? Absolutely not; we're looking to teach some lifelong skills."

Ward adds the measure (HF 420/SF 382) also would reduce healthcare costs. It would establish statewide standards for health and physical education and make physical education a graduation requirement.

Mary Story directs the University of Minnesota's Obesity Prevention Center. Story says overweight kids have an 80 percent chance of becoming overweight adults and that the percentage of overweight kids has tripled over the past quarter-century. In her view, it has created a public health epidemic.

"If we don't act to reverse this alarming trend of obesity and overweight, we are in the danger of raising the first generation of American children who will live sicker and die younger than the generation before them. Preventing obesity during childhood is critical, because habits that last into adulthood are generally formed during youth."

Ward concedes the state budget crunch means every initiative is being put under a financial microscope. He is convinced, however, that this one will do more than pay for itself.

"Most districts currently have physical education teachers and health teachers currently on staff. We do know that, if the current trend continues, it's going to cost the state of Minnesota, in increased health care, about a billion dollars by the year 2010. And, by 2020, it goes up to $3.7 billion because of the obesity epidemic."

He notes there is some opposition to the legislation from those who disagree with government mandates. He answers them by pointing out a number of other state education-related mandates designed to help kids learn.

Jim Wishner/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - MN