Experts weigh in on childhood obesity

By: Elizabeth Scussel | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published April 9, 2014

According to Healthy Kids, Healthy Michigan, nearly one in three children in Michigan is overweight or obese, and obesity in children ages 6-11 has increased nearly fivefold in the past three decades.

HKHM is a statewide coalition, dedicated to reducing childhood obesity, that supports the passage of the H-1 substitute to House Bill 5196, which would establish a minimum requirement for physical education in grades K-eight.

“While some would say that being physically fit is a personal responsibility, it is important to recognize that it is a learned behavior,” said Mike Maisner, chairman of HKHM, in a prepared statement. “We don’t expect our children to show up at school already knowing how to read. Similarly, we shouldn’t expect them to know everything about physical activity, nutrition and lifelong health without adequate instruction.”

The Michigan school code currently has no minimum requirements for K-eight physical education.

“Though we know childhood obesity faces all children today, our schools are doing an excellent job addressing this issue through a variety of programs,” said Shira Good, director of communications for Bloomfield Hills Schools. “Our schools are serving fresh vegetables and fruits through our school lunch program and offering a wide range of other healthy lunch choices. Our physical education teachers and coaches work hard every day to help students remain active and engaged in fun, energetic activities.”

The bill currently is before the House Education Committee. If it passes, K-five students would be required to have at least 90 minutes of physical education class time each week, as well as an additional 60 minutes of physical activity each week during recess and other school activities.

Grades six-eight would be required to have 45 minutes of physical education class time every school day for at least one semester. These new requirements, Maisner said, would make physical activity a priority, allowing students to learn more about how to lead healthy lives.

“Getting students excited about a healthy and active lifestyle is half of the battle, and our teams strive to integrate physical activity into many things, like jump rope fundraisers and fun runs,” Good said.

According to a study in the Journal of School Health, physically fit children scored better on standardized math and English tests than less fit children of the same age. One article reported that second- and third-graders who participated in 90 extra minutes of physical activity per week performed better on spelling, reading and math tests, and gained less weight over the next three years.

According to the Institute of Medicine, children who are more active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speeds and perform better on standardized tests than children who are not as active.

“It is important to emphasize that 21st century physical education curricula are not your mother’s or father’s gym class,” Maisner said. “Comprehensive, standards-based physical education curricula are designed by some of the best minds in kinesiology, motor development research and instructional design. Not unlike a math or science curriculum, they follow specific lesson plans, with students learning and demonstrating competencies that are measurable and aligned with national standards. Provided with an appropriate amount of time in a quality physical education curriculum, Michigan students will gain the knowledge, skills, competence and confidence to be active for life.”

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry is also speaking out on the health impacts of childhood obesity.

Dr. Kristopher Kaliebe of the AACAP explained that the high quantity of highly processed food children are eating is not only bad for their bodies, but it’s also bad for their brains. And recent research on childhood obesity by the AACAP shows significant risk for increased emotional and cognitive problems.

“Kids have less (physical education) and less time on their feet,” Kaliebe said. “Moving more frequently gives the brain what it needs.”

Kaliebe said that the sooner kids are exposed to nature and the world, the better. And by instilling this lifestyle in today’s youth, we can prevent these issues in future generations, he said.

To help combat obesity, the AACAP offers a plethora of information for parents about various social contributors that may lead to childhood obesity, as well as the mental health issues that affect children and adolescents.

For more information on the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, visit For more information on Healthy Kids, Healthy Michigan, visit