New Book Urges Schools to Make Physical Education a Core Subject in Response to U.S. Obesity Crisis

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Children’s Futures Endangered When They’re Denied Fundamental Right to Physical Education, says William E. Simon, Jr., co-founder of UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind

The lack of physical education in the nation’s schools is jeopardizing children’s future “as surely as if we were buying them daily packs of cigarettes."

Lack of physical education in the nation’s schools is jeopardizing children’s future “as surely as if we were buying them daily packs of cigarettes,” says William E. Simon, Jr., cofounder of UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind, a program that fights childhood obesity by placing fitness equipment in schools. In his new book Break A Sweat, Change Your Life (with a foreword by the “father of aerobics” Dr. Kenneth Cooper), Simon argues for making physical education a core subject, as important as math, history, or English.

A health crisis triggered by inactivity and obesity looms for the U.S., where about one-third of American children are overweight, and one in five children ages 6 to 19 are obese. Pediatricians are treating children for type 2 diabetes and hypertension—diseases once considered to be adult problems. Unless a big change occurs, this may be the first generation in which children live shorter life spans than their parents.

“That physical education is a fundamental right is beyond dispute,” Simon says, pointing to UNESCO’s International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport, and U.S. state laws requiring physical education in public schools. However, “failure to enforce physical education laws is common in school districts in California and across the nation,” according to a report by The California Endowment.

Simon calls for immediate action, starting with a shift in how we think about physical education:

  • Change the focus of physical education to helping students become physically literate, building a foundation for a long-term commitment to fitness.
  • Move beyond sports. School sports tend to be exclusionary based on ability, and there are many barriers to engaging in organized sports. Focus on fitness basics that all kids need and can do.
  • Understand that children need more exercise than adults because they are growing. An hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity on a daily basis is recommended for children.
  • Recognize the important cognitive, mental, and emotional benefits of exercise, for example, studies show that increasing physical activity can improve academic performance.
  • Respect the knowledge and dedication of P.E. teachers. They’re much more than a stereotypical glorified babysitter; they can put children on the path to a lifetime of good health and fitness.

In 1998, Simon and his wife Cindy founded Sound Body Sound Mind, a school-based fitness program. In twenty years the program has grown to serve more than 160,000 students a year in 127 of Los Angeles’s public middle and high schools. In 2015 Sound Body Sound Mind joined forces with UCLA Health.

About the Author
William E. Simon, Jr., is chair of UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind. He has been active on the boards of a number of charitable organizations concerned with children’s health and well-being. He is a partner in Massey Quick Simon, an independent wealth management firm, and an adjunct professor in UCLA’s law school and economics department. A former Republican nominee for governor, he and his wife live in Los Angeles. They have four grown children.

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Kelly Hughes
DeChant-Hughes Public Relations
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