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What Ever Happened to Gym Class? Budget Cuts and the Rise of Childhood Obesity

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Health Issues page and our Appetite For a Change page.

Elaine Gil is the only gym teacher at P.S. 24, a large and growing dual-language elementary school in the heart of Sunset Park, Brooklyn.  The 50-year-old bounds from class-to-class in her sweatpants, sneakers and t-shirt, teaching 40-minute periods for kindergarten through fifth graders, one after the other. Yet, of the 750 students at the school, only about 450 are able to take physical education in a given year because of limited space and money. And those who do, have gym class only once a week.

The loss of gym time in city schools is not new, but it's become ever more urgent.  Slightly more than half of the children in P.S. 24 have been found to be overweight or obese.

"My main goal is to get them moving," Gil said as 23 third graders filed into the second floor gymnasium for their weekly gym period.   Gil is a self-taught phys ed teacher, using her early childhood education training combined with the internet and common sense.  "Most kids, if they have P.E. have lost weight."

Two decades ago, 42 percent of public school children attended daily physical education classes.  Today, like P.S. 24, gym has been reduced to once a week in many city schools. Nationally, only 4 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle schools, and 2 percent of high schools in the U.S. provided daily physical education or its equivalent for all students in all grades, according to a 2006 report from the Centers of Disease Control.

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