Childhood Obesity and the New PE

Last night on the evening news there was a piece on the rise of childhood obesity. One of the proposed solutions was the so-called new PE. This consisted of work with treadmills, exercise bikes and other apparatus some of it very high tech. Every child had a heart rate monitor and they were taught to stay within certain well defined exercise zones. The teacher was not teaching he was supervising. The commentator remarked on how much this looked like a health clinic. Precisely, that is exactly what it looked like and as we well know health clubs do not necessarily promote good health. The stress there is on appearance (I digress). As I watched this I could not help but think how much money all the equipment cost. With the cost of the equipment they could have financed the salaries of two more teachers to decrease the class size and actually teach and motivate the kids by making it more individual. One huge problem with PE today s that it is a dumping ground, the class sizes are significantly higher than the "academic" subjects because you can handle more people in PE. It is not unusual to see gym classes of 45 to 50 students. This is a fallacious assumption. The new PE is not the solution. New PE or old PE not much effective is accomplished in that environment, beyond crowd control.

There is no doubt that childhood obesity and other diseases of inactivity are huge problems (no pun indented). But this "high tech" approach is sending the wrong message. It is sending the message that you need sophisticated exercise equipment to exercise and a heart rate monitors to effectively workout. Sometimes what is old is new. We need to get back to vigorous activity that challenges the youngsters to their ability level. We need to teach them how to use their bodies, to experience all patterns and varieties of movement and to learn to push themselves. There is so much that can be done without equipment that is what should be taught. Lets not create another dependency and give them an excuse not to exercise because they do not have equipment. This is a problem that has many dimensions that are indicative of serious problems in our society as a whole. As professionals we need to get PE recognized as important for physical, cognitive and psychological development.


At 9/14/06, 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Having said that, heart rate monitors are a great tool to use with advanced athletes... more than just as a monitor of exercising in a specific heart rate zone that is.

At 9/14/06, 10:29 AM, Blogger Bryan McCloskey said...


you are such a strong advocate for PE...i hae seen it in so many of your posts...and i wonder, have any state associations hired you on as a consultant or brought you in to motivate or lead a restructuring of the curriculum? I used to teach and try to lead my PE department in reamping our PE curriculum, and it was tough.

You would be very valuable in this role!


At 9/14/06, 12:24 PM, Anonymous pmchugh said...

Vern worked with our PE and Athletic program six years ago. I work at an independent school north of Chicago. I know he doesn't want the blog to be an advertisement for his services, but, for me, it was the best professional development opportunity I have ever had. His ideas continue to challenge me and my thinking about coaching and physical education every day. Don't hire him if you are happy with the status quo.

At 9/14/06, 3:29 PM, Blogger TrainJoe said...

Where does the parents re-enforcing the value of exercise fall into this? Being a still relatively young adult, I have friends who's childhood definition of exercise included a nintendo and that's about it. I don't disagree with your statements but lets once again remember they spend an hour a day in PE and far more than that at home.

At 9/14/06, 5:37 PM, Blogger bababooey said...

I work in an inner city school that tried that. The result? In about 3 months every treadmill, elliptical, and exercise bike was graffitied and the the display panels were ripped off. We have a lot of classified students. Yeah, they are really going to work out on a machine and stare at a monitor for a half hour. You can't get your heart rate up by hopping, skipping, and jumping?

At 9/14/06, 8:44 PM, Blogger Brian Harvey said...

As a P.E. teacher I was interested by the "New P.E." and researched it some. I have tried some heart rate monitor lessons with lukewarm success. I still incorporate some heart rate work in order to satisfy the "intergrating technology in the curriculum" standards but I do this in conjunction with the science teacher. Basically the students are collecting data in my class that they will use in a unit on the circulatory system. It is a nice inter-disciplinary lesson. However, I feel the "New P.E." (which shows up almost daily in a newspaper article somewhere) has some good innovations but it has been taken too far. In P.E. supply catalogs I have seen circuit training equipment for elemetary school children. I don't know about your experiences but my elementary students do not want to perform step-ups, band pulls and stability ball curl-ups. They want to play. Whether it's with a ball, playing tag, climbing, moving like animals, creative movement, tug of war, hop-scotch, tumbling or rythmic activities, they want to play not workout. Of course they can get a great workout and develop fundamental movements playing at all of those activities and more like them but to them it is just fun. Like you always say, Vern, keep it FUN-damental!


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