JUNEAU — Aiming to reduce childhood obesity, the state health department plans to study the policies of Alaska schools for physical education and recess, an official said Thursday.
The agency wants to hire a contractor to survey all state school districts and compare their policies to national standards for physical education and activity recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The project has a $40,000 budget, with a report due next March.
The goal involves determining if Alaska schools are offering physical education and recess at adequate levels, said Karol Fink, manager of the state health department’s Obesity Prevention and Control Program.
She said there are no state requirements for physical education in elementary and middle schools, and no mandate for recess in elementary schools. However, recommended guidelines identified by CDC include 150 minutes a week of PE for elementary students and 225 minutes a week for middle and high school students, she said.
An estimated 26 percent of Alaska high school students are considered overweight or obese and policies for PE, recess and other physical activity can lead to improved health for children, the department said.
The study is part of a broader anti-obesity push by the state focused on youth.
Olympic cross country skier Kikkan Randall of Anchorage has encouraged children and families to be active every day. The department also is funding coordinators in several districts to help promote healthy food and activities.
Fink said she realizes schools are struggling to find ways to meet academic requirements amid funding concerns.
“But our argument is that we know that healthy kids and kids that are physically fit and kids who get good nutrition, they perform better in school,” she said. “It’s an integral part of the school day.”
The department plans to make recommendations for schools, recognizing that rural campuses have different challenges than urban ones, particularly in finding highly qualified teachers in certain disciplines, she said. It’s unlikely every school in a district would align with the recommendations, but the hope is to help kids learn the importance of physical activity, she said.
Obesity Prevention and Control Program: http://1.usa.gov/19Ddx7C