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Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance
It is important to note that research should also focus on food service at child-care centers, preschools, and other sites that serve meals to young children. More needs to be known about improving nutrition for young children.
At a time when many children and youth need to increase their physical activity levels, schools offer the environment, the facilities, and the teachers not only for meeting students’ current physical activity needs, but for helping them form the lifelong habits of incorporating physical activity into their daily lives. As discussed in Chapter 3, current recommendations are for children to accumulate a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day (Biddle et al., 1998; USDA and DHHS, 2000; Cavill et al., 2001; IOM, 2002; NASPE, 2004). Because children spend over half of their day in school, the committee felt it reasonable to recommend that at least 30 minutes, or half of the recommended daily physical activity time, be accrued during the school day. In addition to its contribution to preventing obesity, regular physical activity has numerous ancillary health and well-being benefits (Chapter 3).
Researchers are examining the extent and nature of the relationship between increased physical activity and enhanced academic performance, but the results to date are inconclusive. In a study involving 7,961 Australian children, Dwyer and colleagues (2001) found that higher academic performance was positively associated with physical fitness and physical activity. Other cross-sectional studies and a few limited longitudinal studies have found similar results, although correlations are often weak (reviewed by Shephard, 1997). Explanations for a positive association include improved motor development, increased self-esteem, and improved behavior due to physical activity; however, there are numerous confounders, including genetic factors, family environment, and changes in teacher and student attitudes.
Physical Education Classes and Recess During School Hours
Daily physical education (PE) for all students is a goal supported by several national health- and education-related organizations, including the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (CDC, 1997; AAP, 2000; DHHS, 2000; NASPE, 2004). But although more than three-fourths of the states and school districts responding to the SHPPS survey required that PE be taught, the nature and duration of the classes varied widely in practice (Burgeson et al., 2001) and the percentages requir-