As the South Dakota Board of Education considers a proposal revising graduation requirements, the American Heart Association advises against dropping the requirement for physical education and health education. Right now, physical education or health education are required for students to graduate high school in South Dakota. The new proposal would make both physical education and health education optional.
"We are disappointed that this would even be considered," says Darrin Smith, senior director of Advocacy in South Dakota. "Physical education and health education give students the tools they need to maintain a good exercise regimen and good nutrition throughout life. As childhood obesity rises, we should find more ways to educate kids about how to maintain their health, not less."
According to the South Dakota Department of Health, 33.1 percent of South Dakota children are overweight or obese. This is above the national average of 31.9 percent. The percentage of South Dakota adults who are overweight or obese has increased dramatically over the past decade. In 1994, 53 percent were overweight or obese. By 2007, that figure rose to 65.5 percent.
Over half – 52.2 percent of South Dakotans – report doing less than the recommended 30 minutes per day of moderate physical activity five days a week. The nationwide median is 50.5 percent.
Also, 81.4 percent of South Dakotans reported consuming less than the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day – worse than the national average of 75.6 percent.
"The numbers back it up," says Smith. "Our kids need more physical education and health education. We don't exercise enough. We don't eat enough healthy food. Dropping physical education and health education requirements will only make matters worse."
The Board of Education will have a first reading on the revised high school graduation requirements at its meeting in Rapid City Sept. 29 and 30. It will allow a month for public input, then take a vote at its Nov. 2 meeting.
If you would like to help the American Heart Association in its efforts to advocate for policy benefiting heart health, go to www.americanheart.org/sdadvocacy.