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Fighting for Fitness Funding in OR Schools

March 11, 2009

Salem, OR – State lawmakers are being asked to expand the PEAK (Physical Education for All Kids) program – no small feat in a 'down' economy. Health care advocates say a tight budget is a good reason to increase PE funding in schools, to prevent the expensive medical problems that come with obesity.

It's been two years since the Oregon legislature passed basic requirements for physical education for kids in school - and not a single grade level is meeting them, according to new data from the Oregon Department of Education. Many schools say they don't have the space or money for PE programs.

The state does fund a few PE grants for small schools, and lawmakers are being asked to expand that PEAK program. Minot Cleveland is a Portland emergency room doctor, who says today's PE is nothing like the gym classes of past generations.

"'New PE' is really about teaching kids about a healthy lifestyle. So there's an emphasis on aerobic conditioning, flexibility, strength training – habits that are going to pay dividends over the years – and on having fun."

Dr. Cleveland, an internist and a volunteer for the American Heart Association, believes the tight state budget and high medical costs are exactly the reasons to teach children about fitness.

"We cannot treat our way out of the obesity epidemic. Our so-called health care system is broken. It's not really a system when we have so many people uninsured, and it's about paying for disease and disease management. And we must become more oriented toward prevention and health promotion."

Dr. Cleveland, who is testify today at a state Senate hearing in Salem on expanding PE, says he sees daily evidence in his work of the need to get kids in better shape.

The existing PE requirement is a half-hour a day for pupils in Kindergarten through 5th grade, and 45 minutes a day for 6th through 8th grades, but the new data show most kids are getting significantly less than that at school.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR