Are We Stupid or What—As Child Obesity Rises, Our Schools Eliminate Gym


A new study by the CDC should be disturbing news for the parents of any elementary or middle school aged child because it chronicles the alarming degree to which schools across the country are cutting physical education program. Yes, at the same time as the First Lady and a whole parade of other folk are raising alarms about just how fat America is, and we’re getting fatter with each year, budgets cuts and standardized test obsession are leading our schools in the wrong direction.

According to the survey by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of students polled had no physical education during the week. In New York and California, only 20 percent of students get physical education.

It is recommended that students get 150 minutes of physical activity a week and despite this, only six states follow this mandate, according to a study from the University of Georgia. “Findings indicated that statutes were written in a manner that did not explicitly mandate school-based physical education but rather recommended or suggested it,” wrote Bryan McCullick, author of the study and professor of kinesiology at UGA. According to McCullick, even if the mandate was made mandatory, schools would only have to provide 30 minutes of recess a day to meet the requirement.

This is crazy stuff—another sign of how much our national policymakers and leaders seem to have no clue and even less concern for what’s actually happening to Americans in the real world.

Anybody who has kids around them on a daily basis knows how hard it is to get them to go outside, especially girls. My two girls, age 10 and 13, are serious jocks. Die-hard athletes who love to sweat. Yet you’d have to pay them hard cash to get them to go outside. Especially in the dead of summer, with temperatures in Georgia regularly hovering around 100. Suggest they go outside and play and they look at you like you got three heads. Play? Outside? Yeah, right buddy. Not when I got my iPod and my Kinect and my video games and my television set to keep me busy. Sweating outside or watching the silly antics of Kim and Khloe Kardashian—which one shall I choose? It’s kind of a no-brainer in our house. Kimmie wins every time. Yeah, we do make them shut the TV off and pull out a book to read at some point during the day, but that gets us no closer to them running around outside. We’ve just moved into a fancy new apartment building with a pool, so the allure of that pool water is about the only carrot that will find them actually greeting the sunlight during the day.

What parents like us bank on is that at least when these little ones go to school, they’ll spend a few minutes running around in gym class, maybe 10 or 15 minutes sprinting around the playground during recess. But the studies tell us this is not happening. At all.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends one hour of physical activity a day for children and teens; a survey in 2009 found only 18 percent of high school students get that amount of exercise. Only 33 percent of those kids attended a daily gym class.

Something’s gotta give here. Either we all have to construct our households so that we can find ways for our kids to exercise, or the school systems will wake up and rescue us from a coming generation of Diabetic America. Or maybe both things can happen.

Another of the amenities of our new building is a very nice fitness center. My wife Denene and I have been pleased to discover that our girls are now obsessed with working out at the fitness center. This one kinda took us by surprise. They even give their Mommy the nightly motivation to hit the treadmill and the elliptical machine and the Nautilus. This has been a very welcome change in our home. We’re thankful for any help we can get. Cause clearly it’s not going to come from the schools.


1. Depressing Study: Exercise May Not Help Black Girls Stay Slim
2. My Kid Ran Her First 5K—And Inspired Her Mother To Get Moving
3. Daddy’s Little Jocks
4. It’s In the Jeans, Not the Genes: Understanding—and Curbing—Childhood Obesity

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. I can understand the not wanting to play outside in the sun in the dead of summer. But when we lived in Madison, WI we were outside all of the time, most times most of the day… even in the dead of winter, when it was like -20, piles of snow higher than our youngest. Our kiddos LOVE to be outside, and so did some of our neighbors. I think it helped because our neighborhood knew everyone, we bar-b-que’d together, we had birthday parties together we even closed off our street for a block party. So imagine our surprise when we moved to Austin, TX and the daily temp is 90+. Our kiddos are DYING to be outside, we all are dying to be outside.

    We have been trying to find alternative ways to get outside in short spurts because of the heat. But this non activity is driving our outdoorsy family crazy. So we have gotten into gardening, we do water play first thing in the morning, and they ride their bikes later in the day just as the sun starts to go down.

    We are used to going for after breakfast, lunch and dinner walks so this hot weather is forcing us to be creative with how we get outside. But some days I just want to sit in my air conditioned living room, with my cup of juice, and a good book or my computer and hang out here for the day 🙂

    Good Luck with the heat, I think we are all going to need it!

  2. I agree, it’s ridiculous that schools cut recess and PE while we suffer from an obesity epidemic, but given what we know about public education in this country, do we really expect any different?
    Don’t send them outside….go outside with them. The obesity epidemic is not just impacting the youth, y’know.
    Much less grumbling if it’s ‘let’s go play Ultimate Frisbee’ instead of ‘turn that tv off and go outside and play’.

  3. I like Sapphire’s suggestion of getting out there with them. It’s been really hot in VA this summer as well, but we’ve been taking weekly trips to the pool and I try and take them in the backyard after dinner when it’s cooled off. Luckily, their preschool has two scheduled outside playtimes during the summer, so I know they’re running around getting some fresh air. Which also helps with getting them to sleep at night!

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