BRYAN WASHINGTON: California’s Unhealthy Youth

sac-button-BryanOPINION – When was the last time you had to slam on your breaks to avoid running over a bouncing ball or, (God forbid) a kid playing ball? It’s probably not a question you imagined being presented with, but bare with me.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a friend about some of the resent news regarding California youth and the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. You remember that test. Given to fifth, seventh and ninth-graders, designed to measure your flexibility and athleticism based on six common exercises; exercises like running a mile, the sit and reach test, pull ups, push ups and sit ups. A Presidential Fitness Award is issued to the participants that meet the measurable standards.

Before I jump into how California’s fifth, seventh, and ninth-graders faired, lets go over the history of this test.

In December 1953, the Journal of the American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (AAHPER) published an article titled “Muscular Fitness and Health,” The findings of the AAHPER were so displeasing that it lead then President, Dwight Eisenhower to established the President’s Council on Youth Fitness in 1956.

The Council’s primary objective was to be a “catalytic agent” for creating public awareness. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy changed the name to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. That same year, demonstration centers were set up to showcase model schools at the elementary and secondary level. In 2006, the Council celebrated 50 years of accomplishments in youth health and fitness.

Since its inception, every president has added to the councils objectives based on the nations health concerns involving its youth. So, in 2008 the current administration under President Barack Obama, added adults to the councils concerns in May of that year and launched the Adult Fitness Test. In June of 2010, President Obama issued an executive order to change the name to President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, and expanded the mission of the Council to include nutrition.

In California’s most recently released report on physical fitness, only 26 percent of fifth graders, 32 percent of seventh graders and 37 percent of ninth graders scored in the “Healthy Fitness Zone” for all six of the measurable standards.

Moreover, in the past three years California’s fifth, seventh and ninth graders have held close to the same in physical fitness and nutrition. Tom Torlakson, the State’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, expressed his concern regrading the findings saying “to help them succeed in school and in life, California’s young people need more access to physical activity, fresh, healthy food and clean water.” Torlakson added “We know how important health is, it goes hand in hand with student success.” Which brings us back to the question: When was the last time you had to slam on your breaks to avoid running over a bouncing ball or, (God forbid) a kid playing ball?

The lack of adequate physical activity provided for our youth coupled with numerous distractions like social media and video games, contributes to the decline in physical activeness in our young people today.

What’s more, schools are facing budget cuts and pressure to spend more time preparing students for standardized tests, which too impacts the loss of funds and time schools can dedicate to improving the physical health of their students. We can also point to the removal of gym classes all together in some schools. Principal Miriam King of Anatola Elementary School in Van Nuys, California doesn’t even have a gym, let alone a gym teacher. So instead, she relies on $15-per-hour aides to oversee once-weekly exercise regimens for her 450 students at an outside playground.

Despite these dismal results, there are solutions in place to address the health of California’s youth. Locally, the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD), a district that serves more than six million meals annually, has a unique and opportune advantage to change the way its schools nourish their students.

Sacramento is one of the more agriculturally-diverse regions in the country and with about 150,000 students in Sacramento County eligible for reduced or free meals, there are plenty of students who would thrive from fruits and vegetables provided by local farmers.

Through programs like “Farm to School,” which delivers fresh produce from local farmers to schools, the SCUSD is viewed as an innovator in the movement to offer healthier meals to students. Another program being used by the SCUSD, “Go Green, Eat Fresh,” installs salad bars in all SCUSD schools. Some other advantages for Sacramentans includes the incredible amount of parks in the region. Based on a national survey, seventy-seven percent of Sacramentans live within a ten minute walk of a park.

Nationally, First Lady Michelle Obama is leading the campaign to encourage our youth to become more active and to adopt healthier diets. The First Lady’s “Let Move! Active Schools” program is designed to help schools provide students with the tools to keep their kids moving for 60 minutes before, during and after school. The Lets Move! Active Schools program is backed by large donors like Nike, Inc., who donated $50 million, with another $20 million collectively coming from the GENYOUth Foundation, ChildObesity180, Kaiser Permanente, and the General Mills Foundation.

Programs like “Farm to School” and “Lets Move! Active Schools” are just a few of the many ways we can encourage our young people to become more active and eat healthier. We can also do more at home to provide them with healthier lifestyles, like prepare better meals and consume smaller portions. As well as encourage them to go outside to play.

Since locally 77 percent of us live within a 10 minute walk of a park, most of us can take advantage of this close proximity and enjoy a walk with our kids. Adults bare responsibility of giving our youth the opportunity to succeed in school and life. I believe that responsibility begins with providing and implementing the tools available to keep them healthy.

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