With just more than one in four adults in Wisconsin experiencing obesity, a Wisconsin legislator is introducing legislation to require more exercise for school children to combat early childhood habits.
Rep. Chad Weininger, R-Green Bay, said he plans to put forth legislation in the coming weeks to require the 424 Wisconsin school districts to incorporate 30 minutes of physical activity for elementary school students and 45 minutes of physical activity for middle school students.
Currently, the state Department of Public Instruction requires students from kindergarten to sixth grade to have physical education classes three times a week and for middle school students to meet once per week. High school students also must complete 1.5 credits of physical education in their four years.
One in four Wisconsin high school students are overweight or obese, a statistic that has doubled since the 1990s, according to a report from the Department of Health Services. A Center for Disease Control report said 17 percent of school-aged children are obese, with Wisconsin at 25 percent.
Weininger said the current generation is completely different than the one he grew up in.
“Our society is changing, and instead of kids playing kickball at the end of the school day, kids are going home to play video games, and their parents are working late,” Weininger said.
Weininger said incorporating physical activity into schools will help kids do better on exams, give them higher self-esteem, lead to less sick days and develop healthier lifestyles.
The bill is multi-pronged, intending to help kids in multiple aspects of their lives, but obviously will not be a cure-all for all their issues, Weininger said.
Cindy Kuhrasch, UW professor of kinesiology and an expert in movement and physical education, said many schools have been cutting down on the number of minutes of physical education per week, despite the DPI requirement. Some schools are substituting recess for physical education, Kuhrasch added.
Weininger said while the details are not completely decided, the bill will likely include flexibility for schools to decide how to incorporate physical activity without adding or eliminating class time.
Drafting of the bill is ongoing, as Weininger works with school administrators in Green Bay and health groups focused on heart disease and cancer. When the bill is close to a final product, Weininger said he will start looking for other legislators to sponsor it.
Weininger said after seeing studies and statistics regarding childhood obesity, he felt the topic needed to be addressed.
If the levels of obesity in the 1980s and 1990s had not changed to the levels of today, the bill would not be necessary, but if it is not addressed, more generations will be lost to an unhealthy lifestyle, Weininger said.
The DHS report also said, “Unless the obesity epidemic can be curbed, today’s children are likely to have a shorter expectancy than their parents do.”
Not only is forming healthy lifestyles part of the bill’s intent, Weininger said the $1.5 billion spent on obesity-related medical expenses in Wisconsin is also of concern.