According to one of the foremost experts on physical activity, Steven Blair, PhD, our nation’s collective lack of physical activity is “the biggest public health problem of the 21st century.” Now of course Dr. Blair is going to say this – physical activity is his profession, he is a professor of exercise science and epidemiology at the University of South Carolina. But, I happen to agree with him for some of the same reasons he passionately discusses every day in addition to some first hand experience.
As one of the nutritionists for a local weight loss challenge (where participants range from 180-320 lbs), I’ve noticed one thing most participants have in common – they never played sports or did any physical activity as kids. They didn’t learn to like physical activity or find something they were good at. What’s even worse is that some were “punished” with laps, push-ups or sit-ups. It’s usually around this time, after they tell me their stories, that I get this blank sad look on my face. Everyday I am thankful for the opportunities playing sports brought me in life, the lessons learned, the sheer joy of winning and doing something well, the friendships I made, the disappointments that I learned to overcome and … I could go on for pages here. But my point is this – these individuals never received these opportunities. They didn’t learn how good it feels to move their bodies, get active, play. And, now obese and morbidly obese, physical activity is a challenge and they are far less healthy then they should be.
At a time when we need physical activity more than ever I hear stories of states that are cutting PE classes in favor of trying to use that time for other subjects. Those in favor of cutting PE will tell you their students must get their standardized test scores higher. But don’t they realize that children sit still for longer periods of time and have a better attention span when they move their bodies? Don’t they realize there is an obesity epidemic among children (and adults) today? Don’t they realize that our health care costs are sky rocketing partly because of this obesity epidemic? Sadly enough, they don’t.
There are many college students studying physical activity and hoping to make an impression on America’s youth. Let’s give them the chance to do this because what we are doing now certainly isn’t working.