New activity plan seeks to put PE back in school

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. schools and childcare programs could be required to include daily exercise as part of the new National Physical Activity Plan released on Monday.

With two-thirds of adult Americans and a third of children overweight or obese, the need for more activity is dire, health experts said in launching the plan.

The plan calls for changes in medical school curricula, local regulations to encourage construction of sidewalks, playgrounds and parks, guidelines for doctors on counseling patients, and a return of organized exercise to school days.

The report acknowledged what it said was pressure on schools to improve academic standards. “These pressures, combined with the trend toward children being driven to school and other factors, have reduced the amount of time children and adolescents are physically active during the school day.”

The plan was launched by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity, American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine. It spans law, policy, schools and medicine with recommendations that include:

* A national program to educate Americans about how to help themselves and others exercise more.

* More funding of research into how to get people to exercise.

* Including physical activity education in the training of all health care professionals.

* Making physical activity a patient “vital sign” that all health care providers assess and discuss with their patients.

* Putting a field for tracking physical activity in electronic medical records and electronic health records.

* Making physical inactivity a treatable and preventable health condition, with payments to doctors for a physical inactivity diagnosis.

* Developing state and school district policies requiring schools to account for the quality and quantity of physical education and physical activity programs.

* Ensuring that early childhood education settings for children up to age 5 promote physical activity and discourage sedentary behavior.

* Providing access to and opportunities for physical activity before and after school.

* Enacting federal legislation to support these strategies.

* Developing local policies and joint use agreements for school gyms and community recreation centers.

* Requiring a physical activity component in all state and federally funded after-school programs.

Most research shows that adults and children alike need at least one hour of moderate physical activity a day to stay healthy and keep from gaining weight. Regular exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke and other chronic illnesses.

“Unfortunately, nearly a quarter of the U.S. population does not participate in any physical activities,” Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said in a statement.

Editing by Frances Kerry