Healthy bodies, healthy minds

MATTHEW DALLAS - DEPUTY EDITOR
Last updated 12:00 07/08/2014

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OPINION: A recommendation that school pupils undertake a compulsory 90 minutes of exercise a week to aid the fight against obesity has been greeted with scepticism from principals and students, though many readers would likely be surprised this wasn't already happening.

In an open letter to the New Zealand Medical Journal, Dr Lee Stoner of Massey University and association professor Michael Hamlin, of Lincoln University, have argued activity is a key factor in battling obesity and advocated for at least three 30-minute moderate-intensity exercise classes a week.

The pair highlighted the latest school curriculum statement, from 2007, which does not include any minimum time allocation for physical education and criticised "slack teachers" for not including exercise into their classes.

"[Teachers] have to realise that it's not actually hard, getting the kids out and doing something," argues Hamlin.

They stressed physical activity at high school was most important as pupils had more demands on their time and would be more likely to choose not to exercise. So perhaps it is time to take away the choice.

It's a notion that would have seemed ridiculous a generation ago, when most kids would have filled every slot on their timetable with PE if allowed.

But it has been received coolly by school leaders already struggling to manage packed NCEA curriculums and who likely have had a gutsful of the regular lobbying for schools to do more to fight the fat. Many have already de-pastried their tuck shops and offer extensive sporting programmes.

"Isn't it just another case of the school being seen as the panacea for everybody's problems?" mused one principals' association president.

Students too have their doubts, anxious that 90 minutes of running around a week would be 90 minutes less for their study.

It is natural for teenagers to baulk at any scheme with the word "compulsory" attached, but schools and the Ministry of Education do need to consider the social and academic benefits of pupils engaging in physical activity in terms of improved cooperation, coordination, communication and self-esteem.

And it's hardly a revolutionary concept that a little huffing and puffing in the fresh air aids one's focus back in the classroom.

Though it is unfair to charge schools with conquering the obesity epidemic, given increasingly sedentary lifestyles and the encroachment of school work on pupils' own time, it is not an unreasonable expectation that schools ensure students work out their bodies as well as their minds.

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- Manawatu Standard

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