Fairfield Letter: How To Help Kids Get Fit For Life

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State Rep. Kim Fawcett of Fairfield
State Rep. Kim Fawcett of Fairfield Photo Credit: File

FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- The Fairfield Daily Voice accepts signed letters to the editor. Send letters to fairfield@dailyvoice.com.

To The Editor: 

Getting kids to move more, sit less and eat better is a seemingly simple prescription for reversing the childhood obesity trend. Yet it's not so easy to follow, given the realities of children's lives. Busy working parents have limited time to cook healthy meals. Screen time competes with outdoor time.

Schools face tough choices between physical education and academics. The good news here in Connecticut is that a Child Obesity Task Force is beginning to develop creative ideas for making a real difference. What's even more exciting is that by improving children's overall health, we just might give them a leg up in the classroom as well.

The Child Obesity Task Force, established by the state legislature's Children's Committee last year, brings together lawmakers and health and nutrition advocates from across the state to develop policy initiatives that get at the root of child obesity and begin to change the curve. As vice chair of the Children's Committee, I am a strong supporter of the task force and look forward to bringing you regular updates on the group's progress.

Our most recent task force meeting focused on improving physical fitness for our kids. School physical education classes lay the foundation for a healthier life and future success but don’t offer an intensive enough curriculum to permanently change kids' long-term health. The recommended minimum physical requirement for elementary school children is 150 minutes per week, and 225 minutes per week for children in grades 6 to 12. Our schools can't possibly meet those numbers and still satisfy academic requirements. Only 4 percent of the nation's elementary schools actually meet this recommended goal, though Connecticut consistently ranks among the states with the most PE hours per student.

Amid all the talk about test scores and the common core, we failed to notice the studies indicating that students perform better when they are physically fit. Improved physical fitness also leads to better self-discipline, improved judgment, reduced stress and the self-confidence needed to succeed. There is even evidence to suggest that physically fit kids are better at goal setting and working in team environments.

The lesson we're learning is that communities and parent s need to work together to help kids stay active each day -- not just in gym class. One new program involves incorporating “physically active learning” into a child's academic day. Schools are encouraging a walk around the building before the first bell, short two-minute breaks for stretching and movement, use of the stairs, and extra hall trips in between classes. Small spurts of activity throughout the day really do add up. Since learning about the “physically active learning” model, I have renewed appreciation for my daughters' elementary school teachers, who regularly stopped the kids for quick mid-morning and mid-afternoon yoga stretches to refocus their energy.

Working with this task force has convinced me that if we team up as parents, schools and communities, we can improve kids' physical fitness now, while also helping them develop healthy habits to last a lifetime.

- Rep. Kim Fawcett is an Assistant Majority Leader and Vice Chair of the Children’s Committee. This is Part 1 in a series reporting on the work of the Child Obesity Task Force.

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