Bring back P.E to our schools

Australians love to break records. They love to be faster, drink more beer at one go, stay awake longer and score more runs in cricket than the rest of the world. Not all at once, admittedly, but they would love to if they could.

There is one record that they are not proud of, however, and it’s the weight gaining record of the world. Looks like we are gaining weight faster than those other big guys. If we are not careful we will overtake the U.S, Mexico, Britain and Greece.

Believe it or not, while the rate of obesity has more than doubled over the past 20 years in the U.S. Australia’s rate has tripled. This is an alarming statistic!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating more diets since they partly caused all this misery in the first place. I have written about the failure of diets in a previous blog

Nor do I put the blame solely on the big M as did that foolish man, Morgan Spurlock. Such an accusation would be too simplistic.

We are putting on more weight because of a multitude of social changes that have coincided.

When women stepped out of the kitchen and joined full-time work, they were too tired to cook wholesome foods. The last thing they wanted to do when they came home from work is to prepare meals from scratch and who could blame them?

Entrepreneurial food companies rode to the rescue with frozen, dried, reconstituted and precooked meals. They were a good idea at the time and convenience food had arrived. The trouble was that it was laden with thousands of additives to make it last longer and be more palatable to eat. These additives were poison to the system. Extra salt, MSG, extra sugar and fat made the food very high in calories.

At the same time that convenience food appeared so did going out to meals become a regular pastime. Restaurants were not just places to visit on birthdays. They were a labour saver for working women who didn’t fancy washing dishes.

With women working long hours there was nobody at home to supervise outdoor activities. Children sat inside watching TV and then came computers which nailed the lid on the coffin and so exercise was laid to rest.

As if unhealthy food and a sedentary lifestyle weren’t enough to make us roly polies, P.E (physical exercise) classes disappeared from the school curriculum. Apparently, the Education Department had not heard of the old saying: “A healthy mind in a healthy body” They also had not heard of teaching spelling and pronunciation or counting without a calculator, but that’s another story.

Just last week, however, I read that P.E is making a comeback to schools in Texas. The Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas, is helping schools to provide 30 minutes of exercise every day to schoolchildren. It’s a brilliant idea from an icon of the fitness world.

I first heard of Kenneth Cooper in the Seventies when I bought his book on aerobics. In it he allocates a number of points for physical expenditure, e.g cross country skiing would get more points than strolling in the park. At the end of the week you total your points and keep a record of them in a diary. I was never fitter than when I followed the Cooper regimen.

One amusing anecdote that Dr Cooper recounted was when he was asked how many points did one earn for horseriding. He said nil for the rider but many points to the horse.

It’s no secret among my friends that I am very fond of Texas. When I visited the Lone Star State I thought that Texans were the most courteous people I had ever met. They were helpful to visitors and so much more polite on the road than any other drivers all over the world. Therefore, it does not surprise me that Texas should be in the forefront of bringing back exercise into the schoolday.

Dr Cooper says that children who are physically active study better, and feel better and I suspect that many children who suffer from ADHD would benefit from exercise. A half hour of organised exertion is a better proposition than Ritalin. It’s definitely a no brainer.

Whatever the U.S does, we usually follow suit. I hope it won’t be long before we reintroduce exercise into our schools. Otherwise we will produce the sickest and fattest kids on Earth and that’s not a record that we should aim for.


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