ANNAPOLIS — In an effort to combat childhood obesity, a bill called The Student Health and Fitness Act would set the minimum requirement for physical activity at 150 minutes per week for students in public elementary schools in Maryland.
The bill was introduced by Delegate Jay Walker, D-Prince George’s, on Thursday to the state House Ways and Means committee. Walker said in an interview on Wednesday that the bill would set more consistent standards for schools throughout the state.
“Some counties do 30 minutes of physical activity a week. Others do 90 or 120. This bill would just set a basis for all counties in Maryland,” Walker said.
The bill states that the daily programs of physical activity for students would include a minimum of 90 minutes each week of physical education, and any remaining minutes would consist of moderate to vigorous activities, which would include recess.
Kimberly Seidel, the principal of Rockledge Elementary School in Bowie, said that her school switches off every week, alternating physical education classes two times and three times a week, in addition to having 30 minutes of recess every day. She said that having more physical education classes during the week would be a great thing for students because of the various life skills that come with those related activities, such as teamwork and competition.
“Having 30-45 minutes under a certified P.E. teacher where she can teach skills…along with the games is very important,” Seidel said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children age 6 to 11 years old in the U.S. who were obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to almost 18 percent in 2012. The CDC also states that children who are obese are just as likely to be obese as adults and are potentially at a greater risk for adult health problems, including stroke, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Before becoming a member of the Maryland House of Delegates in 2007, Walker was a star quarterback at Howard University and a quarterback in the NFL, with the New England Patriots in 1994, and the Minnesota Vikings from 1996 to 1997. Walker said that his background in sports gives him a perspective on the importance of physical activity for children.
Walker said that the program would cost approximately $25 million to cover all 24 jurisdictions in Maryland.
Several school districts have voiced opposition to the bill by saying that the decision should be left up to local districts. The Montgomery County Board of Education, in testimony opposing the bill, said scheduling increased time for physical education into the instructional day should be left up to local jurisdictions. The Harford County Board of Education also submitted testimony opposing the bill and said, “Accommodating additional physical education would require other subject matter to be set aside unless the school day was lengthened at a considerable cost for the additional instructional time.”
Walker during the hearing said local school systems are opposed to the bill because they want to retain control over the school day.
“They’ll (the school systems) often say ‘Don’t you tell us what to do’,” Walker said.
Rockledge first grader Lyndon Williams participated in different activities during his physical education class on Wednesday, such as walking across a balance beam and crawling through a play tunnel, and said he enjoyed the games in his class.
“It helps my heart stay healthy,” said Lyndon, age 7.
The national campaign Let’s Move, a movement helmed by First Lady Michelle Obama, is aimed at using public and private sector resources to provide schools, families and communities with tools to help children be more active.