Physically active: Exercise bill merits discussion

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The Bluefield Daily Telegraph

Senate Majority Leader John Unger is carrying a bill that would require students to be physically active for at least 30 minutes each school day amid classes. A few of the well-intended ideas proposed in the measure include walking, jumping rope, playing soccer and taking the stairs. The goal is to simply ensure that students are physically active each day in school.

The proposal makes a lot of sense, and merits full discussion and debate. It’s no secret after all that the Mountain State has some of the highest rates of health problems from obesity. And we cringe each year when the annual West Virginia Kids Count report is released. That’s because our region — and specifically McDowell and Mercer counties — historically rank at the bottom of the annual study on the well being of children.

The sad fact of the matter is that kids aren’t as active today as they were say 10 or 20 years ago. Blame it on video games, computers, the Internet and social media if you will. And a lack of recreational facilities and opportunities for youngsters here in the coalfields doesn’t help either. When children spend more time indoors and in front of the computer or television, that is less time they are spending doing a physical activity — be it walking, running, playing ball or simply spending time outdoors.

And adults in West Virginia aren’t setting much of an example for their children. According to the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, West Virginia has the second-most physically inactive adults in the country. And that’s truly unfortunate.

Education officials who spoke before a Senate panel last week argued that aside from the health detriments, students who aren’t physically active can become lethargic and will often struggle to concentrate if they don’t get to expend some energy.

State Board of Education President Gayle Manchin says the program wouldn’t affect existing classes. She adds that children would simply need to be up and moving around for 30 minutes total throughout the course of an average school day.

And West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee says he too supports more physical activity in the classroom.

However, he believes teachers should be allowed to use their creativity to determine when and how kids should be physically active. We see no harm in that. All teachers should be involved in this process.

Whether it is 30 minutes or 10 minutes a day, kids do need to be more physically active both at school and home. That’s why Unger’s measure merits full consideration and debate in both the Senate and ultimately the House.

With this measure lawmakers finally have a chance to take proactive steps to help improve the well being of Mountain State children. We can’t imagine why they wouldn’t act on this opportunity.