As depression and suicides skyrocket, so have obesity, heart disease, and sales of Sock Sliders. A 2017 Harvard study concluded that if current trends continue, over 57% of today’s youth will be obese by the time they are 35. Our already unsustainable health care costs are set to become overwhelming. A 2012 study concluded that if obesity rates only stayed the same, rather than progressing as expected, “the combined savings in medical expenditures over the next 2 decades would be $549.5 billion.”
It is the duty of education to see these issues, interpret the ramifications, and implement solutions. Our negligence to train our youth in health and fitness is the greatest failing of our educational system.
Giving kids the tools for lifelong health must become our primary objective. Students must learn to cook, to grocery shop, and to plan meals. They should be enlisted on a rotating basis in the preparation of cafeteria food, and they should be instrumental in planning initiatives to educate the population at large about the consequences of current health trends and simple solutions.
We should see the student and the school day through a lens of nourishment and fostering a balanced inclination for lifelong health. Standing desks, physical projects, flexibility to take classes outside, and movement breaks should become school norms.
Physical Education Isn't Extra
Most of all, students must be immersed in a challenging and motivating physical education program that makes them more likely to live active, healthy lives. Nothing accomplishes Harari’s suggested objectives of resiliency and emotional intelligence better than an inspired physical training curriculum. More than just creating the physical literacy for a healthy, dynamic life, a great PE curriculum teaches discipline, growth mindset, patience, humility, toughness, dealing with failure, and a joy in the amazing potential of the human body.
Our world makes it so easy to inflate every accomplishment, rationalize every misstep, and live in constant denial. Tapping back into the physical is tapping back into reality. It offers a path to mindfully experience the world around us and work towards tangible results.
La Sierra High School’s PE program from the 1950s and 60s is the model of an inspired, unifying experience. It utilized the best of classical physical education concepts dating all the way back to Ancient Greece. Tony Asaro, who went through this program, explained to me how all his classmates experienced a mind and body transformation in this program, and became bonded as supportive teammates. Nothing ties communities more than common physical experiences.