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Just Say No to Dodgeball . . . and More Ways
to Cure the Childhood Obesity Epidemic, Part II

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In Part I, Ken Reed, PE4life's Director of Marketing and Director of the Center for the Advancement of Physical Education (CAPE), talked about the "New PE," a model for physical education in schools that promotes individual achievement, as opposed to "old school PE," which is "all about calisthenics and picking teams for competitive sports and dodgeball." PE4life, a not-for-profit organization founded in 2000, is devoted to developing quality, daily physical education programs for children.

Beachbody: I'm trying to picture my old high school gym teacher doing this stuff [the "New PE"] and I'm not seeing it. Do you find a lot of people are resistant to this change?

Ken Reed: I don't know if I'd use the term "a lot" but there are definitely physical education instructors that are resistant to change. A lot of them have traditionally been coaches and they use the same coaching athletic model in PE as they do with their sports teams. They're really two different things. You're talking about elite athletes in competitive sports versus trying to improve the lifestyles and long-term wellness of the entire student body. So, like we've mentioned earlier, we've moved away from the pure sports model to a physical fitness model that includes sports as just one part. But we do stress lifetime sports such as tennis and hiking and biking and things like that. These PE4life institutes have fitness centers that look very similar to what you'd see going into a health club in terms of stair-stepper machines and that type of thing.

BB: What was PE4life's involvement with the creation of PEP (Physical Education Program) grants?

KR: We were one of the leaders, but I don't want to say the only leader. We were originally founded by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, but now we're an independent 501c3. We still work with them on National Lobbying Day. Every May we have a National PE Day where we bring in celebrity athletes and PE advocates from all walks of life and talk to legislators on the Hill about the importance of PE and funding for PE. The primary focus is on PEP grants, which this year totaled $69 million.

BB: When a school applies for a PEP grant, are they required to institute the "New PE"?

KR: No. There are certain stipulations in the PEP grant, but money can go to training; it can go to equipment needs. It can go to facility needs. A lot of the PEP grant winners have actually come to our institutes for training, but there's no requirement that they do.

BB: What is CAPE?

KR: CAPE was launched at National PE Day last year as a subset under the umbrella of PE4life. The thinking behind CAPE was that to effect change, we're going to have to do some public policy work. We wanted to create a public policy think tank focused on physical education that would put out position papers and reports. If you go to our Web site, you'll find the "Blueprint for Change." That was the first thing that CAPE put out on National PE Day about what the issues and roadblocks are and what needs to happen. We publish op eds and things and the plan is to start doing an annual report card on the state of PE. CAPE is kind of a research and public policy arm for physical education.

We'll do some research ourselves, but we'll also collect and integrate existing research out there and publish the key findings and position papers for use locally at state levels and nationally in a variety of ways with media and legislators, and so on.

BB: What are some of the specific benefits of physical education besides just being fit?

KR: One of the challenges we face is getting cut in schools because parents and administrators say they have to focus on academics. Well, there are some good studies now showing the connection between physical fitness and academic performance.

There's a researcher at Harvard named Dr. John Ratey who does brain research in physical fitness. He's an avid believer in the value of physical fitness for brain functioning and calls physical activity "Miracle Growth for the brain."

There's a standardized test for fitness at schools called Fitnessgram that has six categories of physical fitness. The kids that score highest on that Fitnessgram also score highest on academic achievement. It's a position paper CAPE is going to do in the coming months, the connection between physical activity and academic performance.

BB: Do your programs go beyond PE? Are you trying to educate parents?

KR: Definitely. If we could get the soccer mom phenomenon working on physical education, we could rally parents and that would be a great advantage. We have a national endorsement by the PTA on the need for PE4life-type programs, so we're working with them.

But parents are a challenge because it's a psychosocial thing. A lot of the parents need a lot more physical activit, too. Because they're inactive, they don't feel comfortable pushing their kids to be more active, so there are a lot of challenges dealing with parents on this issue.

BB: How'd you do in PE?

KR: Fortunately or unfortunately, I was one of the top jocks in my school, so I was a kid who loved dodgeball days when I could pummel the poor, unfortunate kids, but looking back, I can see why those kids dreaded dressing for PE and hated dodgeball and hated getting picked last on teams. I would never recommend the old way of doing PE at all.

BB: What changed your mind?

KR: I got a doctorate degree in physical education and sport administration. Through that, my eyes were opened. You hear this old line about sports building character and being good for kids. My thought was, if that's true, why are we just focusing on the elite athletes? I started doing research on the decline of intramural sportsthey've almost gone the way of the dinosaur. I discovered most kids drop out of youth sports by age 12. Once you start looking at these statistics on what's happening to our kids' fitness levels, there's no way you can condone or support the old way of PE.

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