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Statement of Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) at the HELP Committee Hearing “ESEA Reauthorization: Supporting Student Health, Physical Education and Well-Being”

As Prepared for Delivery

“Today’s hearing will explore how physical activity, good health and sound nutrition can enhance students’ ability to succeed in school and in life. 

“It alarms me that many health experts now predict that today’s generation of kids will be the first to have a shorter lifespan than their parents.  Our young people are confronted by a twin epidemic of obesity and diabetes.  And many children are now experiencing health problems that used to affect adults almost exclusively, including adult-onset diabetes. 

“Studies show that students who are physically active are healthier, feel better, experience improved self-image and perform better in school.  Yet we continue to tolerate a status quo where too few students have educational experiences that fully integrate physical activity, health education and good nutrition. 

“ESEA reauthorization offers an important opportunity to improve the health and well-being of millions of students.  We need to provide better opportunities for physical activity.  We need to make sure our students have access to nutritious options at school.  And we need to increase access to mental health services in our schools.  If our ambition is to re-create America as a genuine wellness society, then that begins by giving our children a healthy start. 

“By all means, we want our children to excel academically. But it’s not enough to do well in school; we also need to encourage physical activity and assist students with making healthy choices— things that contribute to overall wellness.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  This means ensuring that our children have time each day for physical activity.  And it means teaching them about proper nutrition and healthy habits.  Studies show that kids who have opportunities to be active have positive academic outcomes.  I am especially concerned about doing right by the more than 30 million students receiving free and reduced-price lunches.  For low-income children – who are disproportionately victims of the twin epidemic of obesity and diabetes – access to enough food and access to nutritious food are both imperative.

“Students with disabilities, both physical and intellectual disabilities, can also benefit from increased physical activity and wellness initiatives.  Access to athletic opportunities during childhood is critical for students with disabilities to be able to maintain good health and weight, and to learn how to have an active lifestyle as they move into adulthood.  The problem is that too few students with disabilities have meaningful opportunities for physical activity alongside their peers who do not have disabilities.  That’s why I have requested the General Accounting Office to examine the athletic and physical education opportunities available to students with disabilities in our elementary and secondary schools.  In addition, health promotion and wellness initiatives should be tailored to include the specific challenges faced by students with disabilities.

“Today, I look forward to hearing our witnesses’ views on the best wellness strategies (physical activity, nutrition and mental health) for our schools.  We will hear about effective strategies that are currently in place on a state, district and school level, and strategies that specifically address special populations and individuals with disabilities.  

“With that, I will turn to Senator Enzi for his opening statement.”