To battle childhood obesity, should fitness standards be a requirement to pass state exams for students K-12?


Fact Box

  • 18.5% or 13.7 million children between the ages of 2-19 are clinically obese [1].  
  • Experts suggest that starting at age 3, children should work toward 60 minutes of moderate daily exercise [2].
  • “Fitness” is defined by one’s ability to perform a given exercise task, while “health” is defined by a person’s state of well-being, whereby physiological systems work in harmony [3,4].
  • Today’s diet is typically high in refined carbohydrates, including various forms of sugar, and is also high glycemic, which can promote poor health [5].
  • Exercise alone cannot prevent the artery-clogging effects of eating a diet high in saturated fat [6].

Brian (No)

While we all can agree that obesity is a serious problem in the United States, many believe this mandate would not be the most effective way to combat such a problem. During childhood, fitness results may be achieved more due to factors such as genetics, physical growth timing, and biological maturation than effort [1]. For instance, underdeveloped, nonathletic children may struggle more to reach the required fitness standards than children who are 30 lbs. overweight, yet more physically developed. Obesity is only one of several factors affecting the fitness levels of children and adolescents [2].

Another argument against such a policy is the effect that failing a class or grade--regardless of how academically gifted the student is or how much effort they are putting forth--can have during such formative years. One failed class could be the difference between college acceptance and rejection, especially at top-rated schools. In addition, a study found that failing P.E. makes the probability of graduating lower than failing Algebra or English [3].

The goal at this stage of life should be to promote physical activity and establish healthy lifestyle choices. Such a policy may put an overemphasis on reaching performance goals, rather than stress the importance of physical activity and overall health. Although related, fitness and health are different things. Solely training to meet certain fitness goals will not do much to change the obesity levels of students if they are not accompanied by healthy eating and sleeping habits [4]. While good fitness levels may be a goal for some, good health should be a goal for all. 

Heidi (Yes)

Childhood Obesity is a serious medical condition that affects roughly 18.5% or 13.7 million children between the ages of 2-19. [1]. In addition, childhood obesity often leads to low self-esteem and depression. Learning healthy habits early on can lay the foundation for a lifetime of health. A majority of childhood is spent in school, which is the perfect setting to promote healthy habits, especially when they are not practiced in the home.

If this mandate were to be integrated into state testing from early on, such as in kindergarten-- starting with small manageable exercises--and developed each year, children would become conditioned to exercise. Unlike now, where most kids may feel overwhelmed at the prospect of exercising after years of being sedentary. Experts suggest that children should be working towards 60 minutes of moderate daily exercise starting at 3 years of age. [2]. This discipline should be taken just as seriously as English, Math, and other subjects. Some kids are gifted in one area and not the other; however, we should stress that all need to make an effort in areas we struggle with in order to graduate and complete goals in life.

Overall good health is the goal, but fitness is an excellent start. And The Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness states that successful ways to achieve fitness are through the expansion of school physical education, dissuading children from pursuing sedentary activities, providing suitable role models for physical activity, and making activity-promoting changes in the environment [3]. Mandated fitness standards takes this sentiment to the next level and would definitely help children achieve overall good health.  

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