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A gym-dandy solution

August 17, 2004

As an economy measure, it made plenty of sense: Let the school lunchroom double as a gymnasium. But as West Virginia's School Building Authority has found, in that arrangement, phys ed usually gets short shrift.

As a result, the SBA has a adopted a new policy that mandates separate spaces for those activities when new elementary schools are built. It's a welcome change that recognizes the importance of keeping young bodies fit.

The new policy was adopted at the request of officials from Wayne County who were using SBA funds for new school construction.

The idea was endorsed by David Temple, superintendent of Morgan County schools, who said it could work to combat the state's obesity problem.

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The Associated Press reports that West Virginia's childhood obesity rate has topped the U.S. average by 20 percent. Obese children are at a greater risk of developing diabetes and other weight-related problems later in life.

But this sort of prevention is not free. Altering the design of elementary schools planned for Berkeley, Morgan, Monongalia and Wayne counties is estimated to cost an additional $2.5 million.

It's worth it. The American Obesity Association reports that because of a reduction in phys ed classes, unsafe recreational facilities and a more sedentary lifestyle, obesity on children increased from 4.3 percent for boys and 3.6 percent for girls in 1974 grew to 16 percent for boys and 14.5 percent for girls in 2000.

For children and adolescents, the extra weight makes them susceptible to a variety of illnesses most associate with adults: Diabetes, sleep apnea asthma and high blood pressure. And then there's the psychological effect of being teased for being a "fat kid."

This new policy will help by making physical education a higher priority than it is now. But parents must do their share by restricting their children's diets and the time spent on things such as television and video games that keep them from exercising their young bodies.

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