PE Under Siege
All the experts contacted by WebMD agreed that the lack of opportunity for exercise during the school day is a big part of the problem. With the increasing emphasis on raising test scores, physical education classes are disappearing from the nation's middle and high schools and many elementary schools have done away with recess.
"Especially at the elementary level, kids need to get out and run around," panel co-chairman Robert M. Malina, PhD, tells WebMD. "It is abnormal for a youngster to sit all day with no opportunity to use up all that energy."
The panel presented evidence that physical activity actually helps children perform better academically. Strong acknowledges that the data are not conclusive, but he says it is clear that regular physical activity doesn't hurt school performance.
The CDC recommends daily physical education from kindergarten through 12th grade. But few schools comply, citing budget restrictions and increasing academic demands which eat up the school day.
"It may be that we need to extend the school day or include physical activity in after-school programs," Strong says.
And while schools are critical, all agree that parents are, too. The best way to encourage exercise in children is to set a good example, they say.
"The evidence is very clear that if parents are active their children will be more likely to be active, too," Malina says.