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Physical Education: Grundy Center's PE4Life Program

posted on May 20, 2010 at 11:47 AM

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Americans are overweight and even obese. Statistics get thrown out – such as more than one-third of American adults have a body-mass index of more than 30. That's nearly three times as many as in 1960.

More than 9 million young people -- or 27 percent -- ages 17 to 24 are too overweight to join the military.

The U.S. military complains that the escalating rates of child obesity pose a serious threat to national security.  A report titled "Too Fat to Fight," notes that weight problems have become the leading reason why recruits are rejected for service.

Closer to home, in Iowa alone, the Iowa Department of Public Health says thirty-nine percent of Iowa's 3rd, 4th and 5th graders are overweight or obese.

The heavier we are, the more likely we are to develop long-term health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

To reverse such a large trend seems daunting. But one north central Iowa community has an approach to health and wellness that has garnered international attention.

5th graders at Grundy Center Elementary school come to P-E class armed with a piece of technology that is changing the way they learn.

These monitors go on their wrists and help keep track of their heart rates as they warm up, stretch and move into full activity during their physical education class.

It all is part of the PE 4 Life program.

Rick Schupbach/Co-Director, PE4Life Grundy Center: "If you see them walk to the thick maroon line, it means then are monitoring themselves with an IEP, Individualized Exercise Prescription Plan, their heart rate. We have to take the guessing out of assessing."

Taking the "guessing out of assessing" through the use of monitoring equipment, helps PE instructor Rick Schupback know if his students are working hard enough ...

"left, right, center, drop."

And helps the students aim for life fitness skills. These skills are taught at both the elementary school and in the Grundy Center combined middle and high school.

Schupbach: "Our mission statement here at Grundy Center is to educate for healthy, active lifestyles. And we really want to give students the skills, the knowledge, and the ability and the confidence to move forward, after their time here, so they can take care of themselves."

"Good job, Daniel. Keep up the good work."

Grundy Center schools officially became a PE4Life school 5 years ago. They were one of the first in the nation to serve as a training site for other educators to learn about the grassroots organization aimed at improving the quality of physical education.

Graduate students from the University of Northern Iowa help at all levels in the Grundy Center school system.

And the program has drawn international attention – enough attention that the school, and UNI, recently hosted a conference that drew visitors from 26 countries as part of the Global Forum for Physical Education.

In addition to visiting PE classes, the forum brought in speakers who addressed the issue of childhood obesity.

Peter OReilly/VP, NFL Fan Strategy: "Play60 is about being active in whatever way is best for that child and that community. Clearly we think playing our game, in our non-contact game, for boys and girls at the youth level, is a tremendous way to get 60 minutes of activity a day, but Play60 is about being active in anyway that suits your needs as an individual."

Sarah Baird/VP, National Dairy Council: "What it is, is partnering nutrition education with physical activity in order to get healthy kids. It seems very easy. But what it is, the difference is, those kids in the center, they get to choose what they want to do. They track what they eat, track their physical activities. Our goal now is to go deep. We want those 60,000 schools to really, really make changes. We want them to not only do physical activity, but nutrition changes as well."

Also in attendance was Shellie Pfohl, the Executive Director of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. The Iowa native and UNI graduate is now in charge of carrying out President and Michelle Obama's vision for physical fitness.

Shellie Pfohl/Executive Director, President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports: "Grundy Center schools I would hold up against any program in the country and really the world. What they've done right, one of the many things they've done right, is they not only built a quality PE program, but they've engaged the community."

That community plays a large role in going down the path to a healthy lifestyle. The YMCA is located at the high school and is available for everyone.

But there still needs to be motivation to make the program work.

Schupbach: "The role of families is extremely important, parents to be role models. If nothing changes, nothing changes. In the past 30 years, we've tripled the obesity rate for young people. Imagine if we dumbed down America's kids by 3 times as much in the last 30 years, imagine the uproar."

While enthusiasm is fierce for this type of program, there are those who say it is too expensive for their school to provide.

Schupbach: "We can't afford not to. I believe an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You've heard that for years and years. 97% of our healthcare dollars are spent reactively, only 3% are spent proactively. What is most paramount to us, what do we value most, is the health of our children. We then have to take the educational delivery system and match up our belief system to with what we are doing on a daily basis for our youth."

Shellie Phol: Grundy Center started with nothing. They did it based on dedication, on perseverance, on going and getting grant dollars, going and getting donations, getting the community involved, it can be done. It is not about the money. It is about priorities."

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