RICHMOND, Va. (CBSDC/AP) — Pediatrician groups and other health advocates are claiming a small victory in their efforts to press for physical education in Virginia’s public schools.
Gov. Bob McDonnell is expected to sign into law legislation that would require the state Board of Education to develop guidelines to incorporate P.E. in Virginia’s elementary and middle schools, a small step in a wider attempt to combat the childhood obesity epidemic. It’s expected to pass both chambers next week and become law.
“We were pleased to have reached a compromise with the governor to help create a roadmap to increase physical education,” said Dr. William Moskowitz, president of the Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
McDonnell vetoed a bill by Sen. Ralph Northam, D-Norfolk, but proposed amendments to the companion House version by Del. John O’Bannon, R-Henrico. Under McDonnell’s changes, the state would develop non-mandatory physical-education guidelines, rather than implement regulations. The guidelines are to be in place by 2014.
Childhood obesity is a growing problem in Virginia, as it is nationwide, contributing to $1.6 billion in related health-care costs in Virginia, including $374 million in Medicaid expenses, burdening both the health care delivery and cost structure, Moskowitz said.
“Exercise is the mainstay of how you prevent obesity,” he said.
A 2010 study commissioned by the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth found one of out five young people ages 10 to 17 in Virginia was obese or overweight.
This year, the bills only focused on Virginia developing P.E. regulations. In the previous two legislative sessions, Northam and O’Bannon — both practicing physicians — introduced measures that would have required students in kindergarten through eighth grade to get 150 minutes of physical education weekly, but they failed to become law.
The Virginia AAP, as well as the state chapters of the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society, said requiring physical education in schools is necessary in order to curb the high costs of childhood obesity and to help people develop healthy, active lifestyles when they’re young.
But the measure ran into heavy opposition from the Virginia School Boards Association, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents and the Virginia Municipal League, who said that putting the weekly P.E. requirement into effect would be onerous and too costly.
The General Assembly approved the legislation last year. But McDonnell sided with the school groups and vetoed it.
Moskowitz said he hopes the Board of Education’s guidelines will include encouraging students to get 150 minutes of physical education a week.
He also cited research that shows increasing physical activity helps boost academic performance.
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