Fitness Mandatory In School?

The game a group of suburban Dallas middle school students are playing in gym class is called chaos - but nothing about their exercise regimen is being left to chance.

That's because they are about to become part of a revolutionary experiment to shape up America's kids, CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports.

"I just want to stay healthy because if you do get overweight, sometimes it can be life-threatening," said Alex Sobotka.

Back in the 1960s when PE was part of every day and fast food wasn't, only 3 percent of 6-19 year olds were overweight or obese. Today 30 percent are. And 80 percent of chubby adolescents will grow up to be overweight adults.

"It is truly, I believe, going to be the most serious health problem we face as a nation if we don't do something about it," said Texas state Sen. Jane Nelson.

Current dire projections show by 2025, 48 percent of Texans will be overweight, enough to help Nelson persuade fellow lawmakers to take drastic action.

Beginning next spring Texas will become the first state in the nation to require at least 30 minutes a day of physical education - and require all 4 million students third through 12th to undergo a series of annual fitness tests to see how they compare now and later to other kids their age.

Garrett Braun, a Texas 6th grader, thinks it's a good idea: "I think everyone should be tested so we can see how fit everyone is and how far everyone has to go."

The tests are the brainchild of the man who 40 years ago introduced Americans to aerobics. Dr. Kenneth Cooper has pretty much given up on the adult generation, but says it's not too late to try and save the next one.

"Can we do this in children? I thin we can," he said. "I think one of these days that will be my legacy. Not aerobics, but what we can do in Texas is gonna spread across this country."

Cooper believes the benefits will be three-fold. First off, kids will lose weight. Secondly he believes kids who are in better shape will perform better in the classroom and behave better.

Couric & Co.: What About The Kids?
But the question remains: Can you force kids to be fit?

"We can make sure that our children are getting a dose of physical activity every day," Nelson said. "We can do that."

Valerie Garcia is ready. The El Paso seventh grader wrote Nelson a letter asking for help.

Her words were, "I am overweight and would like to not be obese."

Why did she write that? "Because I really feel like it. There's a girl behind a big, huge girl that I would like to show everybody else," she said.

Can anyone force her to be fit, though?

"I think I have to make that decision myself," she said.

Valerie says she's already lost fifteen pounds by cutting out junk food and exercising more. The state is hoping its new plan will help other kids come to the same decision.
  • Cynthia Bowers

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