EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third and final installment in a three-part series by the Daily Press highlighting the efforts in the community to combat childhood obesity. Part three discusses the importance of physical activities in school.
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Like good nutrition, being physically active is a necessary component for youth to be healthy. Just ask your school's physical education teacher, many who say kids are just not getting enough physical activity in their lives due to a variety of factors.
In Michigan, high school students are required to have one semester of physical education and one semester of health in their freshmen year. Additional classes are up to individual districts.
"I feel kids can get a lot more physical activity than they're getting," said Scott Johnson, a high school physical education teacher at Bark River.
In addition to the required course, high schoolers at Bark River have the opportunity to take weightlifting and an advanced high school P.E. class. The junior high also has physical education available.
As a physical education teacher for 21 years, Johnson said schools statewide have seen cuts in gym and health classes due to funding concerns.
"Physical activity is critical for health and well-being," he noted. "It's an important role in a person's life to carry on healthy habits for their lifetime."
It's also healthy to have fun doing physical activities, he said.
"I love working with kids and helping them achieve their goals and do my best to keep them physically active and make them realize the importance of physical activity for their health," said Johnson.
Todd Kangas, Manistique high school physical education and math teacher, agrees youth need more opportunities to be physically active in school as well as at home.
"I think a more physical lifestyle leads to a more enjoyable life with fewer health problems," he said.
At Manistique, P.E. students learn about lifetime activities such as fitness and strength training. In class, they participate in individual activities like running and swimming. Team activities include basketball, soccer, baseball and volleyball.
Kangas said, in his opinion, high school students need more than just one year of physical education and health and should be involved in physical education every year. Two years ago, the district offered an advanced P.E. class but the non-mandated class was cut due to budget limitations.
Factors that have contributed to the lack of P.E. classes, is students are being more prepared academically for tests and jobs, he said. There is less and less emphasis on personal fitness for individuals, he added.
"Kids should have more opportunity for physical activity in the course of the day. It would help them academically," Kangas said.
Some students don't have the desire or attitude for physical activities but opportunities should be available for those kids you do want to do more, he noted.
Extracurricular activities offer youth more options, Kangas said, estimating more than half the high schoolers at Manistique participate in sports activities.
"I truly believe that physical activity is a thing that they need to do. Kids at that age need to be active," he said, adding that many youth are less active due to computers and online activities.
Johnson agreed today's technology has taken away from kids being active. This includes television, computers, video games and other electronics, he said.
John Petr, a physical education teacher for 32 years, teaches middle school students at Gladstone. According to statistics, he said, one of every four kids in the nation is obese.
He attributes this increase to youth walking less to get places, kids spending more time with technology and social networking, and districts cutting back on physical education classes.
At Gladstone, middle school students receive one semester of physical education in sixth and eighth grades. About one-third to one-half of seventh-graders have physical education and health.
At the high school level, in addition to the required freshman physical education course, students have advanced P.E. classes designed around each student for sports fitness, losing weight or getting in shape, he said.
But one day a week of P.E. is not enough, Petr commented.
"I think we emphasize academics and we're missing the best with physical education," he said, adding that students need to be strong and fit in both mind and body.
Petr says the costs of health care will continue to increase in the nation because of the lack of individual's physical activity, a decrease in physical fitness, and overeating.
"The need for physical education is something we have not addressed," Petr said, adding this attitude needs to change.