The War on Recess

Published December 22, 2010

In the Dec. 16 Southeast Missourian article titled “New federal law focuses on school nutrition,” Lisa Elfrink, nutrition services coordinator for the Cape Girardeau School District, says the schools are fighting childhood obesity in part through “a change in philosophy.” But the philosophy behind the new Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and related state and federal regulations may be part of the problem.
Subsidized free and low-cost lunch programs are enormously expensive and just as wasteful. A 2007 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found public school children wasted $2 billion a year in food.

Beyond the waste of dollars and resources is the misallocation of energy and time. Missouri schools have not been immune to pressure encouraging more time for test preparation and less time for physical education and recess. Although the state requires a certain number of minutes per week for P.E., some schools have gamed the rule by making children run laps at recess.

And why is there such pressure to prepare for tests? Perhaps because another federal mandate in the form of the No Child Left Behind Act has made P.E. an unaffordable luxury for many low-achieving schools.

A good diet is only part of the anti-obesity equation. Nutritionists say exercise is another part. But with the war on obesity clashing with the war on recess, urged by top-down mandates from the federal government, the missing part seems to be sane public policy.

BEN BOYCHUK, The Heartland Institute, Chicago