Can P.E. class really make a difference in children’s fitness

May 24 2007

For some kids, the only exercise they get is during gym class at school. Physical education majors at Indiana State University are learning how to make the most of that time.

“It is no coincidence that as physical education in schools was de-emphasized or eliminated, that the incidence of childhood obesity skyrocketed,” said Jeffrey Edwards, chairman and professor of ISU’s physical education department, and interim chairperson of athletic training. “Until we re-establish physical education as an important daily activity for school children, physical educators are going to have to be creative and efficient in their delivery of course activity and content under less than optimal conditions. Our faculty are working hard at preparing students to be smart and effective in their teaching.”

To help these future P.E. instructors get an understanding of what activities work well with different age groups, elementary school students from Sugar Creek Consolidated and Meadows were invited on campus for the annual P.E. Field Day.

Members of OSPE • Organization for Students in Physical Education • put together and facilitated five activity stations, including favorites such as parachute games, kickball and an obstacle course.

“I’m going to be an elementary education P.E. teacher, and I want to see what it’s like to work with the kids in these different P.E. settings,” said Erynn Williams, a freshman from Indianapolis, who was helping students on the obstacle course. “I love being around kids with all their energy and I want to learn how to combine that energy with exercise that will make them happy. If they aren’t happy about what they’re doing, they’re not going to put their energy into it.”

Tammy Turner, Sugar Creek Consolidated teacher, watched her fifth-graders raise and lower the red-and-white-striped parachute, tossing up bean bags.

“The kids really love coming here; it’s a special treat to them coming on campus and doing all these fun activities,” Turner said. “I am glad to bring them because kids need to be running and developing their strength, and also learning to work together, like they are here in the parachute game. These are concepts that we work on all day long, so this is just a different setting that reinforces the message.”

Childhood obesity is a real concern in this country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 19 percent of U.S. children ages 6 to 11 are overweight.

Solutions are being sought at several levels. Healthy People 2010, a federal initiative by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, presents 467 objectives to improve the health of Americans by the year 2010.

Tom Nesser, assistant professor of physical education, also is seeking solutions to improve the fitness level of our children, and has received a Promising Scholars grant from the university to pursue a line of research.

In his study, he is evaluating the effectiveness of a community-based childhood obesity treatment program, to see if it can improve the physical activity and dietary patterns of participants.

“Structured exercise is good, but people need to be physically active overall, by spending less time sitting and more time moving,” Nesser said. “In addition to well planned and executed P.E. classes, it takes the entire family to increase physical activity levels of children. When the whole family takes a walk after dinner or helps with yard work, the whole family improves their health.”

Nesser, who serves on the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Education Committee, emphasizes to his students the importance of being part of the solution to this national problem.

“I bring up the issue of childhood obesity to students all the time, and each time I do, I challenge them to come up with a solution,” Nesser said. “In class, I teach them the science behind the importance of making physical activity a part of people’s lives, but the challenge is getting people to move. We are surrounded by convenience and it is killing us.”


Photos (download high-resolution photos):
Indianapolis-area P.E. major experiential learning
Cutline: Erynn Williams, Indiana State University freshman physical education major from Indianapolis, keeps Meadows Elementary School students on track during the obstacle course at P.E. Field Day.

Valparaiso-area P.E. major experiential learning
Cutline: Ryan Raelson, Indiana State University senior physical education major from Valparaiso, tosses a bean bag onto the parachute for Sugar Creek Consolidated Elementary School students to toss up into the air as part of a high-energy, low-impact activity during P.E. Field Day.


Contact: Thomas Nesser, assistant professor of physical education, Indiana State University, (812) 841-4346 (cell), (812) 237-2901 (office), or

Writer: Katie Spanuello, media relations assistant director, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3790 or

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Story Highlights

For some kids, the only exercise they get is during gym class at school. Physical education majors at Indiana State University are learning how to make the most of that time.

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