The phrase a “sound mind in a healthy body” has been attributed to Thales of Miletus, the first philosopher of historical record and one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece. Although Thales died about 2,500 years ago, I cannot help but wonder what he would think of our public school systems and our national adult obesity rate.
I have recently read in this newspaper a letter to the editor headlined “Public school system, employees deserve respect” and a front-page article headlined “The writing is on the wall for school system’s future.” Neither of these addressed the “healthy body” concept that Thales thought was so important.
Much has been written about the difficulties in measuring the educational achievements of children in our public schools, and many excuses have been used for low local test scores compared to state, national and international test scores.
But even those with doctorates in education must find it impossible to make excuses for the low overall level of physical fitness of our public school students.
I have carefully read this newspaper for 35 years and I know that there have always been many outstanding and very fit student athletes in this area. Some of these student athletes met or could have easily met all the qualifying standards for the Presidential Physical Fitness Award Benchmarks (85th percentile). Some of the activities tested for this award are one-mile run, push-ups, pull-ups and curl-ups. The one-mile run is timed and the number of push-ups, pull-ups and curl-ups are counted. The test results are indisputable and are available immediately.
These standards are outdated and are based on a 1985 survey, which was validated in 1998 by means of comparison with a nationwide sample collected in 1994. I believe the students tested in 1985 and in 1994 were healthier than the children of today’s electronic age and that, in keeping with other educational trends in this country, the standards should be adjusted downward. It is so much easier to adjust the standards downward than it is to provide the students with adequate physical education. I expect no less from our professional politicians and educators.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index for the year 2011 gives the state of West Virginia the negative distinction of having the highest adult obesity rate (35.3 percent) of adults, as well as the nation’s highest rate of high blood pressure (38.9 percent) for adults, and the highest rate of diabetes (15.7 percent) for adults. Both Maryland (with an adult obesity rate of 26.8 percent) and Pennsylvania (with an adult obesity rate of 28 percent) were above the national adult obesity rate of 26.1 percent.
The same index mentions, “Eating healthily, exercising frequently, not smoking, and having easy access to a place to exercise are among the behaviors or situations most strongly correlated with low obesity rates.” Eating healthily, exercising frequently and not smoking are individualized behaviors and require personal responsibility.
Having easy access to a place to exercise is a situation that has been addressed in this area by the presence of the many health clubs.
The presence of nurses in our schools is an important issue, but it should not be more important to politicians, bureaucrats and the general public than the physical fitness of all students.
The debate over national health care is an important issue, but it should not be more important to those who are obese or overweight than their own personal health care.
If our country is to remain great, it needs more intelligent educators, physically fit children and healthy adults. What are we waiting for?
Daniel Moeller is a resident of Rohrersville.