A new report from the Des Moines University Osteopathic Medical Center reveals that childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions over the last two decades, and teachers of the physical education programs at both the public and parochial school systems in Storm Lake are attempting to reverse that trend with a host of activities to try to get kids in shape.
The report from DMU said the number of non-Hispanic white children who are overweight doubled from six percent to 12 percent in the period from 1986 to 1998, and the Center for Disease Control recently declared obesity an epidemic among all children in the United States, regardless of age, race or ethnicity.
Carmella D'Addezio, D.O., M.S., FACOI, associate professor of medicine at Des Moines University Clinic, said there are many factors that lead to children becoming overweight.
Three common reasons are eating larger meals at fast food restaurants more frequently, spending more time watching television and playing computer and video games and eating more unhealthy snacks from vending machines at school.
"Children are consuming a higher percentage of their calories in high-fat foods and sodas and they are more inactive than ever," Dr. D'Addezio said. "As children spend more and more time watching television, playing video games, or surfing the Internet, they are getting less exercise."
Another reason for the national increase in childhood obesity may be the decrease in the amount of physical education programs across the nation.
While both Storm Lake school systems offer P.E. several times a week, a report from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) showed that 25 percent of pupils in the U.S. have no P.E. during their school day at all, and that the vast majority of high school students have the class for only one year between ninth and 12th grades.
Chris Reinert, a first-year P.E. teacher at St. Mary's, said he is trying to provide innovative activities which are designed to not only reduce obesity in students but to encourage the pupils to continue to be physically active when they graduate from St. Mary's in the future.
"One of the big things I'm trying to do is introduce new activities to them that they might not have done in the past that interest them, and then when they get out of high school they'll continue those," Reinert said. "I'm trying to teach them activities that they'll use throughout their lifetime. I think that's important to do."
One of those lifelong activities being taught in the Storm Lake public school system is the annual swimming unit at Buena Vista University.
Students from all four elementary schools use BVU's Finkbine Natatorium to learn how to swim and exercise in the water, and Carol Havens, an elementary physical education teacher, said the unit gives kids a chance to not only learn valuable water safety concepts, but also to realize physical activity helps maintain healthy lives.
"The most important thing they learn in here is definitely water safety, but it's also a good chance to introduce them to water," Havens said. "Quite a few of these kids have never been swimming before, and if we can help them learn, it will be a very positive thing for them in the future in regards to both safety and exercise."
Reinert said he thinks these new techniques of teaching physical education will prove to be beneficial in the long run, and thinks a new wave of P.E. teachers now entering school systems will be able to help reverse the trend of obesity.
"I believe there is going to be a totally different outlook for P.E. in the next few years," Reinert said. "P.E. programs are going to change, and I think they are going to change to help kids become more physically active in the future."