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Virginia lawmakers approve PE requirement for elementary, middle school students

In 2008, state legislators passed a bill recommending 150 minutes of activity in schools, but most did not abide by the recommendation.

Liz Payne, Fairfax's coordinator for health and physical education, said this year's legislation will mean elementary students will have to more than double their physical activity. But, she said, it will not affect middle schools, where students take more than 150 minutes of physical education a week.

Keith Imon, Prince William's assistant superintendent for communication and technology services, said that children do need to get more physical activity but that he doesn't know how the bill can be implemented without additional costs. The county would have to increase physical education for elementary school students as well as sixth- and seventh-graders, who take about 112 minutes of physical education a week.

Del. R. Steven Landes (R-Augusta), who voted against the bill, called it an unfunded mandate.

"You and I both know the school systems already have to do a lot with not all the funding that they believe they need now," Landes said. "The goal is laudable. The implementation is going to be a concern."

But O'Bannon said additional money was not provided because any elementary or middle school teacher can teach physical education so schools will not have to hire new teachers.

Legislators also agreed to recommend - but not mandate - 150 minutes of weekly physical education for high schools.

The bills were introduced by two doctors who serve in the General Assembly - Sen. Ralph S. Northam (D-Norfolk), a pediatric neurologist, and O'Bannon, a neurologist.

The groups supporting the bills because of the mounting costs to society of obesity included the Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Virginia Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, the National Association of State Boards of Education, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We are facing a crisis in Virginia and across the country," said Cathleen S. Grzesiek, director of government relations for the American Heart Association. "It's time for the state to take this bold step."

Thirty-one percent of Virginians ages 10 to 17 are overweight or obese, according to a 2007 survey conducted by Extra pounds lead to a greater risk of diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and high cholesterol.

"Some people think it's maybe a little too much to ask the schools to do what this bill suggests," said Del. James M. Scott (D-Fairfax). "But I think that because way too many of our kids are overweight, we have an obesity problem that way overwhelms any problems the bill causes. I think parents needs a little help."

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