Guest commentary by Dr. John Kilbourne makes a strong case for making child obesity a major platform for Michigan and Michigan’s governor Rick Snyder. The numbers continue to be mind boggling.
Shortly after Rick Snyder was elected governor of Michigan, I had a guest column published in The Grand Rapids Press; “Rick Snyder’s biggest challenge is how big we are,” Nov. 27, 2010.
The column encouraged Gov. Snyder to take bold steps to get Michigan back into shape. During his first year in office, Snyder has become a spokesperson reminding residents everyone has a responsibility to help Michigan fight its high rate of obesity. In addition to his Obesity Summit and his introduction of Pure Michigan Fit, he has taken a pledge to eat more nutritious foods, and exercise.
While I applaud the efforts of his first year, he can and must do more. Gov. Snyder needs to expand Pure Michigan Fit to include comprehensive wellness programs for every K-12 student. And these wellness programs cannot resemble the traditional physical education programs many of us experienced during our years in public schools.
Physical education continues to lose its rightful place in education and beyond. School systems, including colleges and universities, continue to reduce or eliminate physical education requirements and programs. According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 3.8 percent of elementary schools, 7.9 percent of middle schools and 2.1 percent of high schools provide daily physical education. They also found 22 percent of schools do not require children to take any physical education and nearly half – 46 percent – of high school students were not attending any physical education classes.
At the college or university level, one must look hard to find any school, including Grand Valley State University, that requires physical activity or a fitness/wellness class as part of its general education requirements. Adding to the aforementioned reductions and eliminations of physical education programs are the ever-present negative feelings and stereotypes that continue to damage physical education’s reputation and dampen our abilities to procure a rightful place in education. For example, while serving as a college professor in Massachusetts, my students and I lobbied at the state House for more quality physical education in public schools. Too often, the senators and representatives we were speaking with shared the awful experiences they had in physical education classes as students. More damaging are the present-day antics and sadistic personality of the physical education teacher Sue Sylvester on the popular television series “Glee.”
The program Gov. Snyder needs to support for our public schools is W.E. – Wellness Education. W.E., like its title, is an inclusive, comprehensive approach to wellness education in schools. It will include physical education teachers open to change, the medical community, school nurses, health educators, school administrators, classroom and university teachers and faculty, parents and guardians, the food service industry, churches, community organizations, the business community, the media and, most importantly, students of all ages. Solving the current health and fitness crisis in Michigan will require cooperation with many folks on many levels. Like with any new beginning, efforts must be made to nurture positive growth and development. Colleges and universities will need to restructure their former physical education teacher preparation programs so the next generation of wellness educators have appropriate knowledge and experiences in a comprehensive approach to health and lifelong fitness.
In addition, school districts will need to provide the necessary resources to help current physical education teachers learn about and implement this new model. Teachers will need additional knowledge and experiences in health and nutrition, lifelong fitness (yoga, Pilates, martial arts, dance, aerobic and anaerobic conditioning and outdoor education), exercise and sport psychology (motivation, team building and leadership) promotion/marketing, social work (community outreach) and technology (Kinect, Wii, HopSports, etc.).
A day for an elementary school wellness educator might include:
- Teaching first-graders a playful approach to the fundamentals of locomotor movement.
- Introducing short brain-break movement exercises in a third-grade classroom.
- Meeting with fifth-grade teachers on lesson plans that incorporate dance into a unit on Africa.
- Collaborating with the school nurse on individual wellness plans (IWPs) for those students who are overweight or obese.
- Hosting a local business leader for lunch in the school cafeteria.
- Taking a fourth-grade class on a nature walk to discuss, with their teacher as the guide, the biology of their neighborhood.
- Meeting with the district’s technology person on creation of a Web-based W.E. support system.
- Concluding their day with a meeting after school with parents and guardians about incorporating W.E. into the upcoming school Halloween party (movement activities and nutritious food).
Gov. Snyder needs to lead at every level of state government and support with funding this transformation. Wellness education can move Michigan through this next century and beyond.
John Kilbourne, Ph.D., is a professor in the department of movement science at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, a former strength and flexibility coach for the Philadelphia 76ers and author of “Running With Zoe: A Conversation on the Meaning of Play, Games & Sport.”