Wisconsin spends approximately $3.1 billion annually in health care costs related to obesity, the state’s adult obesity rate has doubled since 1990, and one in four Wisconsin high school students are overweight or obese, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Rep. Chad Weininger, R-Green Bay, is drafting a bill that he said could help change these “unfortunate” statistics by increasing the amount of physical activity required of students during the school week as early as the 2014-2015 school year.
Currently, students in kindergarten through sixth grade have scheduled physical education classes three times a week while students in seventh and eighth grade have the class once a week. High schoolers must earn 1.5 credits of physical education in order to graduate.
“What we’re seeing is that’s really not working anymore. Society is changing,” Weininger said.
Weininger said pickup games of basketball, like the ones he used to have after school, are a thing of the past because parents work longer days and children go home, grab a snack and sit in front of the television until their parents arrive, contributing to the current obesity rate.
To turn things around, the bill would call for 30 to 45 minutes of physical activity to be added to the days where students, kindergarten through eighth grade, are not enrolled in a gym class.
There are several benefits to the physical activities bill, Weininger said, financially, academically and physically.
“There’s a Florida study that shows their scores double, (they) have better self-esteem and are sick less,” Weininger said.
Once the adolescents turn adults, Weininger hopes they will share their healthier lifestyle and “curve the trend so we reduce that one in four” statistic by sharing what they learned growing up.
The bill, which Weininger planned to have completed by the first day of school in September, is still being drafted because he wants to ensure the language provides school districts the ability to implement it flexibly and not interfere with academic requirements.
Melinda Morella, assistant director of Live54218, a Brown County non-profit that promotes healthy eating and active living, said the organization supports the implementation of evidence-based measures that could increase physical activity among residents.
However, Morella said the group is aware the demands on schools’ time “are pretty tight” and in order for this potential bill to be implemented, “schools will definitely need to be supported in their efforts.”
For Allison Miller, Wisconsin government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the bill couldn’t come soon enough.
“Science has shown that obesity, at the rate we are going, threatens to clip tobacco use as the number one preventable cause of cancer,” Miller said. “If we can get them (children) up and moving in school that would be great. … We have to start doing something and need to do it now.”