Archived Story

Editorial: Good play helps kids learn and be healthy and active

Published 9:19am Thursday, September 13, 2012


Kids are back in school with an appetite for new experiences and challenges in and outside the classroom.

It’s good to know that required changes in school lunches and physical activity may better suit kids’ ability to face their busy school days.

For the first time in 15 years, federal school meal standards have been overhauled to update them to today’s nutrition guidelines.

The changes were approved by Congress in 2010 and adopt updated information about appropriate food portions and caloric intake. Portion sizes are adjusted for students of different ages.

In the meals served to students, schools are required to cut carbohydrates, meat and calories and offer more fruits and vegetables. For example, instead of offering a half cup of a fruit or vegetable at a meal under the former standard, at least 1 1/2 to 2 cups of a variety of fruits and vegetables are required.

In Minnesota, the focus on better health extends to requiring kids to get physical activity during the school day. The Healthy Kids Bill, passed by the 2010 Legislature, requires districts to adopt minimum physical education standards and issue optional guidelines for “active recess.”

Simply put, that means instead of a haphazard approach to recess where some kids play hard while others hardly play, a more organized approach would be used to get kids to participate in a variety of games or walking in groups — not just allowing a game of football to monopolize the playground that you either play or stand around and watch.

In a culture of cramming a lot into the school year — including mandatory testing, more science, math and technology courses — it’s important that younger kids have time to play. Not only does physical activity help the body, but it primes the brain for learning time, according to research.

Childhood obesity is not going to go away if school and home meals promote unhealthy, processed foods. The number of obese children has tripled in the past 30 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also says schools play a critical role in supporting healthy habits and behaviors.

The school year is off to a good start if children are not only learning about healthy behavior but are practicing it every day in their school cafeterias and on their playgrounds.

— Mankato Free Press, Sept. 10