ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Schools Can Reverse the Sedentary Trend

Monica Lounsbery

Post submitted by Monica A.F. Lounsbery, PhD, professor and director of the Physical Activity Policy Research Program, Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition Sciences, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

When we were growing up, when someone said physical activity they usually meant exercise, or exercise and physical activity were one and the same. That was also a time when we walked or rode our bikes everywhere, at school we had daily physical education and recess three times per day, and playing outside with neighborhood friends was the best social opportunity a kid could have. We didn't have computers or cell phones, our families had only one car, and while we had television, we only had a handful of channels. Television programs were geared mostly to adult viewers and signed off in the late evening. We had cartoons, but they were only on Saturday morning until 10:00 a.m.

A lot has changed since then. Today, most households have more than one car, kids rarely walk or ride their bikes anywhere, and almost no child has physical education every day or gets several recesses. Children rarely play outside with neighborhood friends and their social opportunities are tied to Internet-based social media and cell phones. Television channels are infinite and children's programming, including cartoons, are available 24/7.

There have been quite a few environmental changes too. People moved out of city centers and into the suburbs that sprawl for miles and we began to design neighborhoods to be separate from business and industry. We built super highways and freeways and made streets wider to accommodate the automobile and our many commutes from homes to work, school, and elsewhere. Walking to a destination as part of daily living has become a thing of the past.

With all these social, technological, and environmental changes, we have engineered physical activity out of almost every aspect of daily living. Today, physical activity means bodily movement that increases energy expenditure above basal level and now, exercise is a source of physical activity. In most every part of our waking day, no matter whether we are in our communities, at school, or at home, we have defaulted into being sedentary.

Meanwhile, over the past several decades, researchers have identified that physical activity is important to health and is one of the leading modifiable risk factors for mortality and morbidity. The relationship between physical activity and a variety of numerous health conditions, including coronary heart disease, diabetes, and various cancers, has been well-documented. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the first-ever scientifically based physical activity guidelines for Americans. It provides information on the amount, types, and intensity of physical activity needed for health benefits.

Although we know physical activity is important to our health, almost no segment of the population gets the recommended number of minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity. This includes school-age children! Sedentary living is now one of the most challenging problems facing public health, and in 2009 the World Health Organization identified physical inactivity as the fourth leading cause of death.

Researchers and public health proponents are searching for ways to help people be more physically active. Because children are in school for about one-half of their waking day for nine months of the year for 12 years, schools are important locations for promoting and providing physical activity. Numerous health agencies, including the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, support physical activity and its promotion in schools.

To more fully understand physical activity and its promotion in school settings, investigators have been studying the links between physical activity and academic performance. There is also a growing body of evidence demonstrating that physical activity has important implications for student academic achievement. Results from these studies are summarized in a publicly available report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Comments (2)

Rick Baldock

November 17, 2011

A nice article summarising physical activity trends but not really addressing sedentary behaviours at school. Perhaps an article from Jo Salmon from Deakin University in Australia could address this issue more fully.


November 18, 2011

Thanks for the comment Rick. The blogs are great discussion starters and we welcome other US and international (incl. Australia) viewpoints. If you have ideas or examples feel free to send them on .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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