Texas Passes Law Aimed at Getting Kids into Better Shape
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MANDATORY PE IN TEXAS SCHOOLS IS VICTORY FOR CHILDREN
Strength of New Law Is in Testing More Than Four Million Students
Cooper Aerobics Center Applauds Senator Nelson, Representative Eissler and Texas Legislature for Efforts to Keep Youth Healthy
Governor Rick Perry signed Senate Bill 530 into law Wednesday night at the State Capitol breathing new life into physical education (PE) classes and requiring testing of more than four million Texas students. The law is expected to trim growing numbers of overweight and obese children. Research shows that more than one-third of school kids in Texas suffer from weight problems, and as a result, those children are pre-disposed to adult on-set diabetes.
Kenneth Cooper, MD, MPH, known as the "father of aerobics," created and initiated the bill's concept, which was authored and introduced by Senator Jane Nelson, District 12. Corresponding House Bill 1257 was introduced by Representative Rob Eissler, District 15. The new law now defines the level of daily activity – moderate to vigorous – kindergarten through fifth graders are required to exert for 30 minutes during PE or structured recess, which students will begin this fall. Starting the next school year of fall 2008, sixth through eighth graders will be added and must participate in moderate to vigorous activity four out of six school semesters either 30 minutes daily, 125 minutes during a school week or 225 minutes over two school weeks.
"This legislation is critically needed to improve the health of our student population, far too many of whom are overweight and at risk of chronic diseases. We have a responsibility to ensure basic health and exercise for our young people so that they can live long, healthy lives," said Senator Jane Nelson, District 12.
As part of the bill, more than four million third through 12th grade students in 8,000 public and private schools will undergo yearly tests-the first acting as a baseline. The tests will measure physical performance and its affect on student academic achievement levels, attendance levels, obesity, disciplinary problems and meal programs, specifically if students eat breakfast at home or what they bring for lunch versus eating at the school cafeteria.
"We had to get the law in shape before we can get our children in shape," said Dr. Kenneth Cooper, referring to Senate Bill 19 that was passed in 2001 but did not require any testing. "The strength in Senate Bill 530 is that students will be tested on their physical fitness and how it relates to their overall school performance. Because there is a direct correlation between the two, I predict two things: Texas will be shocked at how low our children score on these tests, and two that you'll see vast improvements in both areas. This law is a victory for our children."
The Texas Education Agency will select the assessment tool and oversee the testing of the program. Results are expected to be shared with the Legislature in the fall of next year. Parents can request their child's physical fitness assessment results at the end of the school year.
"The Greeks believed that a sound body gave you a sound mind. And to prove it, they developed the Olympic games. The traditions of competition and the benefits of physical fitness are only now being fully understood," said Rob Eissler, State Representative, District 15. "This bill takes a big step in incorporating those tenets into our schools in a way that can measure just how fit and how meaningful a student's fitness correlates to academic achievement. Not only will we see better fitness and long-term health, but we will most likely see increases in the academic achievement of our students, a truly win-win scenario."
Dr. Shirley J. Neeley, Commissioner of Education, added, "There is nothing more important than a well-balanced child, and this law helps us achieve that. It's an honor to team with public schools, students and their families across the state to make the health of our children a top priority. We are responsible for the whole child including his or her physical health. As a result of this effort, we will see a healthier Texas as children take what they've learned and teach their own families."
The Cooper Institute, the 501(c)3 nonprofit research and education division located at Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, developed the FITNESSGRAM and fully supports it being considered as the state assessment tool. The FITNESSGRAM typically costs $230 per school. If the FITNESSGRAM is selected, all profits to The Cooper Institute will be waived and/or placed back into the program.
"I'm so committed to this effort that we will not make any money off this," said Dr. Cooper. "In fact, I will personally work to raise the $1.6 million it will take to fund the program so that it is at no cost to the state."
An estimated 67,000 schools are using the FITNESSGRAM nationwide including more than 1,000 schools in Texas from Austin to Plano. There are 11 Texas school districts that use the FITNESSGRAM district wide including Beaumont ISD and El Paso ISD. Miami-Dade County and New York City Public Schools recently adopted the program district wide. If selected, Texas would join Delaware, California, Kansas, Kentucky and Washington as states that mandate daily activity among a variety of grades and elect to use the FITNESSGRAM to measure students. Illinois is the only state in the nation that requires PE for K-12.
Dr. Cooper added, "I expect Texas to be so successful that we will expand this program to test and require physical activity for our students in K-12. Once that happens, we will see the health – not just of our children – but of our entire state make a dramatic change for the better."
About Cooper Aerobics Center
Cooper Aerobics Center, founded in 1970 by preventive medicine pioneer Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, encompasses nine divisions on 30 acres in Dallas. The entities include Cooper Clinic, a preventive medicine facility; Cooper Wellness Program, a four, six, or 13-day lifestyle modification program; Cooper Fitness Center, a 3,600-member health club; Cooper Spa, a full-service day spa open to the public; Cooper Guest Lodge, a 62-room hotel and conference center; Cooper Ventures, which offers health and wellness consulting; Cooper Concepts, Inc., which manages Cooper Complete nutritional supplements and a health-focused radio program; Cooper Weight Loss, providing a variety of weight management programs; and The Cooper Institute, a 501(c)3 nonprofit division dedicated to research and education.