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Whatever Happened to Gym Class?.

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PE Under Siege

All over the country, teachers like Latham are introducing innovations which are virtually reinventing physical education, while many school administrators and public officials have all but declared war on PE. Fitness classes are disappearing from the nation's public schools at an alarming rate, done in by ever-tightening budgets and time constraints.

Only about half of students in grades K-12 have physical education classes every day, and only 29% of high school students do. And one in four kids have no PE during their school day at all, according to figures from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), the nation's largest professional organization for physical education teachers. In a report released last year, NASPE found that the vast majority of high school students have physical education for only one year between 9th and 12th grades.

"There are just so many more academic demands on high school students than there used to be," NASPE executive director Judy Young, PhD, tells WebMD. "Many kids are trying to get in computer science, extra math, foreign language classes, any number of things, and there are still only six hours in a school day."

Young says it is no accident that kids in the U.S. are getting fatter as physical education classes are being cut. The CDC has declared obesity an epidemic among children, and obesity-related diseases once seen almost exclusively in adults, like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, are increasingly being diagnosed in adolescents.

Last fall, the Atlanta School Board did away with physical education requirements for its schools in order to implement state-mandated academic reforms. A school-board member was quoted as saying the action was taken because kids in school need to be doing more serious things than playing.

"That is ridiculous to me, but, unfortunately there are a lot of people sitting on school boards who just don't get it," says Anne Flannery of the physical education advocacy group P.E.4Life. "These days, anything that isn't tested isn't valued, and schools are feeling the pressure to do away with programs that can't be measured on a standardized test. But there is a growing body of research that shows physical exercise to be sort of a Miracle-Gro for the brain. Movement fosters brain development and growth, and physical activity prepares children to learn."

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