There isn't a week that goes by when we aren't hit with another study on America's high obesity rate.

When it comes to children and teenagers, the statistics are especially alarming. Society has certainly changed in the way children manage their after-school time. Instead of spending time outdoors, more kids opt to stay inside, spending their waking hours in front of the television or computer.

Schools have also been phasing out the PE time that we grew up with. PE is required in most states but the time slots for those programs have been diminishing. A "Shape of the Nation" report issued by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education stated that Illinois was the only state that required a daily PE time for all students in K-12.

This is especially noticeable in elementary schools, where younger students once used that rush of physical activity to help them through their day. Research by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, tells us that physically active children perform better in school and have higher attendance rates.

The government has tried to stay ahead of the game but it's been a struggle. In 1987, Congress passed a resolution encouraging state and local governments and local education agencies to provide high-quality, daily physical education programs for all children in K-12. The Surgeon General issued a report recommending the same thing a decade later and so did the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with its guidelines for schools.

On the state level, the Body Mass Index data on students in the commonwealth proves there is a need for action. The BMI indicates 15 percent of students in grades K-6 are overweight and another 17 percent are obese, which means just under 32 percent of those students are either overweight or obese.

To combat the disturbing trend, an Active Schools Grant Program has been implemented to increase physical activity during the school day. The program helped more than 16,500 middle school students in 26 Pennsylvania counties in its first year and in its second year, it will serve more than 17,000 elementary students.

Last week, Secretary of Health Everette James announced that 40 elementary schools have been selected to receive an Active Schools grant for the 2010-11 school year. Two schools in our area – Weatherly and Pleasant Valley elementary schools – are recipients of the assistance program. The schools will receive a $5,000 grant from the Department of Health's federal Preventative Health and Health Services Block Grant and an additional $10,000 from a match-funding organization in their region.

James said that the schools are making the health of children a top priority by implementing evidence-based programs that get every child active for 30 minutes a day. Schools, working with parents and communities, also give kids more opportunities to be active after school and on weekends.

"This is an important team effort that will pay lifelong dividends for children," James said.

The benefits of a healthy lifestyle are immeasurable. Performing at a high level in the classroom and later, the workplace, impacts everything from increasing a company's output to helping reduce those high individual health insurance costs.

Inspiring our youth to become fit is one of the best insurance policies we can have on the future.

Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com [1]