All children deserve to be educated about the importance of nutrition and being physically active. In January 2016, Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would require a mandatory 20-minute recess during the school day. Dr. Darrin Anderson, state deputy director for the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids and associate executive director for the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance, penned this op-ed about the importance of physical activity and how recess aids in shaping a culture of health for students during the school day.
Darrin Anderson, Sr., PhD, MS
State Deputy Director, New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids
The absence of recess in New Jersey public schools is a disfavor to elementary school children and a major setback in promoting a healthy weight among children.
Childhood obesity in our country has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Today, nearly one in four children ages 10-17 in New Jersey are overweight or obese which leads to a plethora of health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic illnesses that have been generally associated with adults. According to the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research, healthcare costs due to childhood obesity are estimated to cost $14 billion per year.
As a state, we need to encourage active play among children. Recess represents an unparalleled chance to increase physical activity, improve academic performance and foster social interaction among kids. It’s also an underutilized opportunity to improve the overall learning environment in our schools. When it comes to recess—some schools have it, and for others it’s become an endangered species! As the number of minority students in a school rise; and the lower the income level of their parents, the less time is allotted for recess. In fact, nearly half of low income children go all day without it.
Physical activity also can have an impact on cognitive skills, concentration, and attitudes of which are important components of improved classroom behavior. A case study by the Harvard Family Research Project revealed that a modest investment in recess can have a positive ripple effect with visible improvements in several key areas of childhood development. Teachers witnessed how a well-functioning recess could foster supportive relationships among students, create opportunities for meaningful youth involvement, and teach conflict resolution and other life skills.
Over the past five years, the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids and its community partners have made great strides in building those foundations of health by implementing more than 200 environmental and policy changes to increase access to physical activity and healthy eating. Among the successes are: assisting with the improvement of school wellness policies and councils, renovating playgrounds, installing bike lanes, and encouraging the implementation of Safe Routes to School policies.
Ensuring children live healthier lifestyles must be a collaborative effort between communities, schools, businesses, and government. All of us must help to create the change needed to provide opportunities for children to be healthy and to reach their full potential.
For more information, download the following Active Living Research Brief, “Increasing Physical Activity Through Recess.”