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PT on the Run

Health Education

Published December 5, 2013 5:23 PM by Michael Kelley

So I live in Chicago. A fact that anyone who knows me would say I'm acutely proud of. And here in the Windy City, we have a saying during our election cycle: "Vote early, vote often." Now this post isn't going to be about Chicago or voting or politics. No, this week, I'm going back to my old standard harping point: education (I'll tie it all together by the end... I promise!).
Earlier this week, results were released from last year's math, science and reading exam administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development to more than half a million students from all over the world. Now you might think here in one of the richest, most powerful nations in the world with more access to education for students than many industrialized nations let alone the third-world, the US probably faired pretty well, right? Wrong!
Of the 34 countries where the exam was administered, the US ranked 26th in math, 17th in reading, and 21st in science. East Asian nations ranked the highest with China and Japan near the top in each of the three categories. Many smaller European nations also placed higher than the US, including big jumps for Ireland, Finland and Poland (all nations that used to be ranked near or below the US, and have now surpassed us). Now how much do I read into these rankings and statistics? Not a whole lot. Education systems are obviously different all over the world, and even in my brief research on this subject, there are many people out there who are critical of the Asian education systems and policies. So there is no perfect system, but all of this got me wondering... where does health education play into this?

When I was in high school, I was required to take three semesters of physical education and one semester of health education. I looked into the education standards for the Chicago Public School system, which serves more than 400,000 students, to see what their health education requirements were. Sadly, they were the same, with one semester of classroom-based health education. Now I'm not going to advocate that young students be put through the rigors of medical school-like health training, but I do think there should be more availability for furthering health education in our schools. The data is out there, children in this country are heavier than ever before and despite the vast amount of resources available, it doesn't seem like anything is slowing this alarming trend.

I wonder what would happen if we adopted that Chicago voting mentality and applied it to health education -- educate early, educate often. Can we change physical activity levels, alter poor eating habits, or even influence positive life decision-making? If we start teaching age-appropriate material to students early on and make it a standard part of a curriculum in our schools, do you think it would make a difference? I'm not sure, but tens of millions of students attend school every day in this country, and for the most part, we have their attention for 7-8 hours a day. Shouldn't we spend a little time educating them on their own health?

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