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Harkin Reintroduces FIT Kids Act to Combat Childhood Obesity and Promote Physical Activity

Legislation Introduced as Institute of Medicine (IOM) Releases New Report Stressing Importance of Physical Activity and Physical Education in the School Environment

WASHINGTON, DC –  Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today reintroduced the Fitness Integrated with Teaching Kids Act (FIT Kids Act), a bill to combat childhood obesity and improve the well-being of all students by supporting improved measurement of physical activity and physical education at the state, local, and school level and by strengthening physical education programs in schools throughout the country. The bill’s introduction coincides with the release of a new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) stressing the importance of physical activity in and around the school day and recommending the implementation of policies and programs to improve access to physical education and improve monitoring of physical education and physical activity opportunities in schools.

The FIT Kids Act renews the emphasis on physical education, physical activity, and nutrition in schools. The Act would work to ensure kids are active during the school day and are given opportunities that promote overall health and wellness.  The legislation would enable states to collect data on access to physical education and activity, including the amount of time spent in required physical education in relation to the recommended national standard. It would also ensure appropriate professional development for health and physical education teachers, support programs that help students understand, improve or maintain their physical well-being, promote equal physical activity opportunities for children with disabilities, and engage parents and guardians in efforts to support healthy lifestyles for their children.

“To ensure that our kids will lead healthy and active lives, we need to help them develop good habits early on,” said Senator Harkin.  “This bill would combat rising rates of childhood obesity, a public health crisis that endangers the well-being of millions of American children, and ensure that all of our kids get the healthy start they deserve. Kids who get more exercise throughout the day are more fit, more focused in the classroom, get better sleep, and have a lower life-long risk of developing chronic diseases. This bill empowers state and local education agencies, schools, teachers and parents to help improve our kids’ health.”

The FIT Kids Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Ron Kind (D-WI) and Aaron Schock (R-IL). Read more on the FIT Kids Act below:

Fitness Integrated with Teaching Kids Act (FIT Kids Act)

One-third of school-age children and adolescents are overweight or obese in the U.S.  Even more alarming, the prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adolescents is on the rise, and youth are becoming overweight and obese at earlier ages.  Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates have tripled in the U.S., and today, our country has some of the highest obesity rates in the world.  In fact, in the 1970s, only 5% of children ages 2-19 were obese compared to nearly 17% today.

Due to these alarming statistics, many governmental, scientific, and public health agencies recommend that school-age children and adolescents engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.  However, only 29% of students regularly reach this goal and 10% are completely inactive.  Considering that most children spend 6-7 hours in school each day, physical education and activity within schools is an integral component to reaching the goal of increasing physical activity for students.  However, only 4% of elementary schools, 8% of middle/junior high schools, and 2% of senior high schools offer daily PE or its equivalent for the entire school year for all students. 

Moreover, physical education teaches students the basics of how to integrate exercise into their lives in order to establish skills and habits that extend far beyond their school years and instill a lifetime of healthy living.  Evidence also suggests that physical activity is not only associated with a healthier, longer life and with a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and some cancers, but may also have a positive impact on academic performance, self-image, and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Recognizing this critical need, a new Institute of Medicine report calls for increased physical education and activity in schools, reaffirms that children get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day with at least half in school and highlights the link between physical activity and academic performance.  Like the FIT Kids Act, the Institute of Medicine promotes a “whole-of-school” approach where physical activity is incorporated throughout the school day. 

The FIT Kids Act

The FIT Kids Act will authorize grants to states to develop comprehensive, data-driven, and evidenced-based programs to address student physical health and well-being, fitness, and nutrition.  Through these grants, schools will be able to implement, improve, adopt, or adapt programs and monitor school-level conditions in order to promote physical activity, education, fitness, and nutrition for their students.

What Does the Bill Do?

  • Authorizes grants to states to develop or enhance data collection systems that will give local leaders the information they need to improve physical education and activity within their schools and communities. 
  • Implements programs to support physical education, activity, and fitness, and nutrition by promoting activities that increase and enable active student participation, are comprehensive, and help students understand, improve, or maintain their physical well-being.
  • Provides instruction in a variety of motor skills, positive social and cooperative skills, and physical activities designed to enhance the physical, mental, social, and emotional development of students and establish lifelong health lifestyles. 
  • Supports professional development for health and physical education teachers to boost students’ ability to learn, and to promote healthy lifestyles and physical activity.
  • Includes parents and guardians to support their children in leading a healthy and active life.
  • Provides assistance for schools to provide equal physical activity opportunities for students with disabilities.