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School kids need recess-and lots of it-to thrive and learn
Instead of cutting recess time, school administrators should be preserving it or even extending it

Date published: 10/25/2009

IWROTE previously about Domino's Pizza inventing the Oreo pizza, and how it prompted me to ask the question, "What were they thinking?"

Now, I'm tempted to ask the same of Spotsylvania County school administrators, who recently decided to cut some of their students' recess time.

Maybe Domino's and the school administrators are not aware of the gloom-and-doom predictions taking hold as our kids get ever fatter and we succumb to the "diabesity" epidemic.

To quote the blurb on the cover of a great book, "Super Size Kids" by Dr. Walt Larimore and dietitian Sherri Flynt:

"It's not just 'baby fat' they'll grow out of," the pair write of kids' excess weight. "Today, doctors are seeing diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease and heart disease--which once affected only adults in their fifties--striking children as young as six."

According to one study quoted in the book, almost 40 percent of children are considered obese before age 6.

The forecast is that childhood obesity will not only cause a lot of misery and morbidity, but also will grossly overtax our medical and financial resources--from a combination of the cost of treatment and cost of the disability that obesity is predicted to cause. (This is especially bleak when combined with the fact that baby boomers are maturing into infirmity and out of the work force.)

So, when I see restaurants promoting junk-food concoctions and hear of school systems cutting recess, I can't help but protest.

A SQUEEZE ON FITNESS

There are multiple changes taking place in our culture that account for the rise in obesity. The massive amounts of incredibly calorie-dense fast foods and drinks we consume have a lot to do with it.

But so does our slothful lifestyle--and this is the stick with which I wish to beat the Spotsylvania school administrators.

It is well recognized that our kids are less active than they used to be. But school is one place we can get them moving, especially at recess, when they can run amok with their buddies--which is probably more intense exercise than some of the formal PE classes.


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The Center for Public Education--an initiative of the National School Boards Association--analyzed reports on recess from places such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Education. Its conclusion: Most kids in grades 1-6 get a daily recess break, and on average, that break lasts 24-30 minutes.

But recess time is shrinking, the group reports, especially in counties with at least one school identified as needing improvement--as well as in schools with a high percentage of minority and/or poor children. Read more at center forpubliceducation.org.

How much physical activity should children get in a day?

Kids need 60 minutes of exercise each day, says the CDC.

Kids should get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity during the school day, says the National Academies' Institute of Medicine.

Dr. Patrick Neustatter is a family practitioner in North Stafford.