Global Education Forum: Students need specific types of physical activity at school

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

This is post 1 of 5 regarding the 75th Annual Global Education Forum at the University of Georgia on April 2, 2013. Check the adjacent posts for more coverage.

This year’s forum theme was Obesity, Food Security, and Nutrition in Global Context.

During the final session, the theme focused on issues and perspectives on obesity in schools and society. Kinesiology Professor Bryan McCullick spoke about “addressing obesity before it starts with physical education and activity in schools.”

McCullick explained the need to look at PE classes and physical activity in schools as a preventative medicine rather than treatment. We need to get to the students early, and we need to address it in the correct way.

For example, PE classes that were once seen as an inseparable part of education are now considering electives or special classes that are done occasionally during the week. In addition, PE is seen as a panacea for addressing obesity.

But if students don’t learn the skills related to sports and physical activity games, they won’t continue them into the future, he said.

“We can’t do anything about obesity without physical activity. Mounds of scientific evidence supports that,” he said. “But we need our students to be physically educated. The purpose of PE is not just to ‘run, run, run’ during the school day.”

McCullick and colleagues have developed games for all ages to teach students the skills related to fitness and sports, such as passing, blocking, and throwing. They teach these skills during afterschool programs, which helps the students to supplement their PE classes. Once they gain competence and become confident with a skill, the more likely they are to continue participation.

Physical fitness is all about practice, he said.

Now McCullick and others hope to answer a few questions about their program before trying to take it statewide:

  • Can afterschool personnel’s instructional behavior be sustained? (Once McCullick teaches them how to run these games, can they conduct it correctly?)
  • Do children’s moderate/vigorous physical activity rates continue when we leave? (Parents are already saying their kids are feeling more skilled and playing more at home.)
  • What are the effects of these games on body mass and academic performance? (Do the strategy skills help with critical thinking in the classroom as well?)

“Physical activity competence is essential to any efforts to prevent and decrease obesity,” McCullick said. “It’s acquired through physical education. There are no natural-born athletes.”

Afterschool programs are plentiful and the perfect place to start, he added.

“Rather than just being a holding pen and a place for kids to be safe, they could be so much more.”