Challenging physical educators on childhood obesity prevention

**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

A column by Rick Osbourne

The American Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance is the national organization to which most Physical Educators belong. The AAHPERD* has local, state, regional satellites which collectively make up the national organization.

They all have boards of directors, quarterly and annual meetings, websites, and newsletters. The national AAHPERD also publishes two peer reviewed journals through Human Kinetics, Inc. of Champaign, IL. But a perusal of their website reveals that, although it’s been labeled “America’s # 1 health threat” by the US Surgeon General, the AAHPERD offers NO SYSTEMATIC SOLUTION(S) TO OBESITY.

This is the case despite the fact that Physical Educators are in the best position to turn the tide on this epidemic by using a strategy the American Society of Exercise Physiologists has described as “A simple, easily implemented, easily documented, and AFFORDABLE SOLUTION TO CHILDHOOD OBESITY.”

For example, they’re in a much better position than doctors, nurses, or hospitals. They’re in a better position than local park districts, the YMCA, The Boys and Girls Clubs, the Scouts, local health clubs, etc. They’re in a better position because school is where all the kids spend most of their time nine months out of every year. And since this strategy is mainly physical, it fits PE class like a glove.

So What is This Simple Solution to Obesity?
In order to get an understanding of this strategy let’s have a quick look at an insightful study. The ONLY qualification to participate this 492 kid study was that all the kids (2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders) could do at least one conventional pull up. Some could do a lot more. There were 202 girls and 290 boys (492 kids), all of whom could do at least one pull up.

BMI tests were run on all participants and on one hand it revealed that ALL THE GIRLS scored below 30 so NONE OF THEM WERE OBESE. Eight percent (8%) scored between 29.9 and 25 so they carried a little extra weight. But NINETY TWO PERCENT (92%) scored below 25 which means that if a girl can do even one pull up the odds are better than 9 out of 10 that she’ll carry NO EXCESS BODY WEIGHT AT ALL!

On the boys side, two percent (2%) scored 30 or above and were supposedly obese. Twelve percent (12%) scored between 29.9 and 25 so they carried a little excess weight. And eighty six percent (86%) scored below 25 which is another way to say that NINETY EIGHT PERCENT (86% + 12% = 98%) of the boys who could do at least one pull up WERE NOT OBESE. As for the 2% who were labeled obese, my bet is they were simply victims of BMI’s well known inability to distinguish between body fat and muscle mass.

Dramatically Lower the Odds of Obesity
Any way you slice it, according to this study, the ability to do at least one conventional pull up (any grip) DRAMATICALLY LOWERS THE ODDS OF KIDS BEING OBESE. For all practical purposes then, if you can do at least one conventional pull up (more is always better) YOU ARE NOT OBESE!!

The problem however is, this study is not written on a University, a Medical Association, or a Government Agency’s letterhead so establishment experts refuse to recognize its legitimacy. This is true despite the fact that NONE OF THEM has a study that’s even remotely as promising in terms of systematically preventing childhood obesity.*

The Necessity of Empirical Evidence
On the other hand I recognize and fully support the necessity of and need for solid scientific evidence before establishment experts jump on board with any new concept that comes down the road. In this light I have the following suggestions (i.e. challenges) for the American Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, since they’re in the best position to tackle this problem SYSTEMATICALLY.

  1. Don’t ignore the 492 kid study, which has been its fate so far. If it had been written on University letterhead it would already be international news!
  2. DISREGARD all the 492 kid study data because it currently lacks credibility.
  3. Go to any local school system ask the PE Department to test all students for their ability to perform conventional pull ups (using any grip).
  4. Select only those students who can perform at least one pull up and run BMI tests on them. Yes, duplicate the 492 kid study USING YOUR OWN DATA!
  5. Confirm or refute the conclusions of the 492 kid study.
  6. If your data confirms the 492 kid study conclusions, write it up on AAHPERD letterhead and publish it in peer reviewed educational journals.
  7. Ask the Cooper Clinic to add pull ups to their Fitness Gram protocol and show PE teachers how to use height adjustable pull up straps and leg assisted pull ups to help all students learn to perform conventional pull ups starting in kindergarten.
  8. Eliminate (for all practical purposes) childhood obesity across the nation within a decade or less, and watch related issues like student self-esteem, academic performance, school attendance, and behavior improve simultaneously.
  9. Arm kids against America’s # 1 health threat (obesity) for life by encouraging them to maintain the ability to perform at least one pull up (which in turn requires decent eating and exercise habits) for the rest of their lives.
  10. Give yourself and your fellow Physical Educators an opportunity to go eyeball to eyeball with science and math teachers. When the Superintendent asks what PE teachers bring to the educational table, you can say “I’m the teacher that helps students arm themselves against America’s # 1 health threat, obesity, for life. This SAVES LOCAL TAXPAYERS MILLIONS OF DOLLARS ANNUALLY, and I can prove it. How does that compare to math and science Mr. Superintendent?

My question now is will the AAHPERD accept this challenge? Or will they stick with the status quo and continue to support the tired old platitudes that to date have completely failed to produce any legitimate, systematic, documented results? Only time will tell. **

*For PR purposes, the AAHPERD has recently changed its name to “Shape America.” It’s much easier to remember
**Any one of a number of other primary players in this field (including at least the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sports Medicine, American Academy of Pediatrics, the US Center for Disease Control, the Cooper Clinic, Human Kinetics, American Council on Exercise, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, Bill Clinton’s Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Action for Healthy Kids, for starters) could take similar action on this matter. But my experience is that it’s a mistake to expect them to do anything of the kind. In other words I won’t be holding my breath until it happens.


Rick Osbourne is a former physical educator and a pioneer in the field of functional childhood obesity prevention. He currently serves as President of the Pull Your Own Weight Foundation which is an Illinois based, 501c3, not for profit organization whose focus is functional childhood obesity prevention. He’s written and published three books in this field, the latest of which is entitled Beating Childhood Obesity Now: A Simple Solution for Parents and Educators. He’s the Examiner’s national childhood obesity prevention correspondent. He writes an online column for The Edvocate. And you can connect with Rick via Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook.

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