City Council, school officials discuss student health and obesity

Council wants to explore adding more physical education requirements in school curriculum

November 04, 2010|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore City Council's education committee assembled school officials, the health commissioner and fitness advocates on Thursday to discuss a trend emerging in city schools: While students are meeting state standards in their physical education requirements, they're also getting fatter.

During a committee hearing at City Hall, city and school leaders explored ways that the school system could strengthen its current standards of physical activity and health instruction to combat the growing trend of childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes, which half of the city's students born after the year 2000 are at risk for.

"This is so important in the lives of our children, who are dying before their parents," said City Councilwoman Agnes Welch, a longtime advocate of combating childhood obesity.

Linda Eberhart, director of teaching and learning for city schools, presented to council members the policies in place that meet the state's Code of Maryland Regulations, which include a physical education requirement every year for students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, and a graduation requirement for high school students.

"So we're doing what the state tells us to do, but it's not addressing the problem," Councilman James B. Kraft responded.

Eberhart presented a number of initiatives that city schools have started to strengthen state standards — such as reducing the fat in student meals by two grams and using whole wheat in meals. Several new programs geared toward nutrition have also sprouted up in the system, such as "salad days" and a district-wide breakfast program.

But City Council members and education advocates at the hearing said it wasn't so much about what students are eating, but how they are burning it off in the six to eight hours they spend in school. "The idea is that I want some movement," said Councilman Bill Henry, who asked whether it would be possible for the school system to require every student to participate in a sports team.

Other options explored included assessing students' fitness levels after they have taken physical education courses and even tying those assessments to evaluations of physical education teachers.

Baltimore's health commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, said that while assessments might raise concerns because of privacy and and possible humiliation for a child, the initiative should be presented as "fitness as a lifelong habit, rather than an obesity issue."

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