One third of the children in Virginia are overweight or obese. Not coincidentally, soft drinks and other “foods” containing high-fructose corn syrup are readily available in our public schools. And now, thanks to Governor Bob McDonnell’s veto, there will be no half hour per day of physical education for public school students. According to the governor, we can’t afford to take time away from preparing for standardized tests or the cost of additional instruction.
This is gross fiscal irresponsibility. The ultimate costs in healthcare and lost productivity as these children age will vastly outpace any investment required to integrate 30 minutes of physical activity into the school day – but in the typical short-sighted manner of today’s so-called “conservatives,” McDonnell has chosen to kick the can down the road and let this growing health crisis become someone else’s problem. The argument from our McDonnells and Cuccinellis in a few years will be that treating the diabetes and heart disease in these now-adults is a “personal responsibility” issue, and not the purview of government.
Even worse, it’s a choice to maintain a culture in which physical fitness is valued only for an athletic elite, not for the general student body. The roles under this system are clear: Unless you can perform at a certain competitive level, you are to be a spectator, not an athlete. Physical fitness is not taught as a healthy lifestyle, available to everyone, but rather as a means of attaining status and providing entertainment. The school sports culture, with its requirement for huge swaths of land for school construction and lighted ball fields – which certainly constitutes a land grab – does nothing for the health and fitness of most of our students. And now, even the suggestion that those facilities could be utilized to benefit the health of ALL students, not just those whose families choose to support participation in sports, has been vetoed. It’s a cultural blind spot which can and should be remedied. We don’t leave the learning of math and reading up to individual choice, and we shouldn’t leave physical fitness training up to individual choice, either. It’s something to which every child is entitled.