Wisconsin Drops the ball on our children’s health

Wisconsin should be so proud. At the risk of choosing sides in a political hot topic, I want to point out a few facts. Not politically swayed right or left, but facts:

  • Children are getting fatter, in fact Wisconsin is 33rd in the country for levels of childhood obesity. We were 25th so we were on the mend, but recent studies of trends show enormous slide backward.
  • Wisconsin is NUMBER 1 in cutting education spending. In fact the most recent budget cut the allowance for every student by $635 a year.

Schools cannot provide physical education that is actually life changing for a child. Beneficial yes. Habit changing that lasts a whole life-long? No. Why, because they have no budget for it. One could argue that money for schools is better spent on books, computers and learning aids but the reality is that children who are fit, children who are active will absorb more cognitively, and retain it longer. That’s a fact too.

What programs do schools eliminate to save money? They eliminate what we used to call MAPEl courses: that is Music, Art, and Physical Education.  According to my old P.E. books from college (one of my degrees is in Physical Education) A physical education:

  • “teaches rules for sports so children can participate or appreciate participation throughout their lifetime”.  I love this because it explains that not all kids will be life-long athletes but they will watch sports their whole life. In school we called that the “Arm-Chair Athlete” definition.  
  • providing the core of a comprehensive approach to promoting physical activity through schools. That objective, as I see it, is not a priority in Wisconsin anymore, and quickly slipping out of the plan for education across the whole country.
  • will help students develop the knowledge, attitudes, skills, behaviors and confidence needed to be physically active for life while providing an opportunity for students to be active during the school day.  
  •  (a student educated about physical activity) has learned skills necessary to perform a variety of physical activities, is physically fit, does participate regularly in physical activity, knows the implication of and the benefits from involvement in physical activities, and values physical activity and its contribution to a healthful lifestyle. In a nutshell, it says that this is where a healthy lifestyle is born
  •  For both young people and adults, knowledge about how to be physically active taught in physical education may be a more important influence on physical activity than the knowledge about why to be active. In other words, telling kids to be healthy isn’t enough without showing them how to be healthy.
  • There is a strong relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement. Cumulative evidence indicates that conditions that improves general health promote both a healthy body and improved intellectual capacity. I’ve yelled this from the highest mountains yet the conditions in our state keep dwindling.

Gymfinity was started, in-part, to be able to offer a physical outlet for children outside the schools. Our EveryBody Fitness program is offered outside of gymnastics and tumbling training for kids who are just seeking an opportunity to be fit. We have offered a fitness program for years and will continue in the future, but our numbers are minimal, in fact the program is a financial liability for the business. But we will not eliminate it because it is a program that is built upon Gymfinity’s core.

Most recent figures from Wisconsin

Wisconsin is not alone. Other states continue to decimate their school budgets and wonder at the repercussions. I think of the people in government who count pennies and allocate their use, denying money to education in the daytime, and wondering at night why their fat kids are getting such low grades, and just how they are going to afford the medication for their own child’s health issues. This is a no-brainer.

There are 10 chronic diseases directly associated with children being overweight. That is a fact.  It’s a fact that 80 percent of children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are overweight (this used to be called “adult-onset” diabetes but too many children are being diagnosed at younger ages to continue to use that term).  The projections based on these facts state that 33 percent of boys and 39 percent of girls born in 2000 will develop diabetes if current trends continue. These are diseases that are 100% preventable, yet we don’t want to allocate money to provide any change. The facts are out there and yet we aren’t paying attention to them. Wisconsin is known for beer and cheese. What could we do to make that reputation change to Milk and Healthy and Smart children?  If we could change that, if our leadership invested for a healthy future, that would make me happy and proud of Wisconsin again. You?

Sourced from:

  • Administration and Management of Physical Education and Athletic Programs
  • Committee for Education Funding
  • Foundations of Physical Education, Exercise Science
  • History of American Physical Education and Sport
  • Instructional Models For Physical Education
  • Milwaukee Journal Sentinal
  • Physical Best Activity Guide : Elementary Level
  • Wisconsin Department of Health Services


  1. billcaudill1950 on August 11, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    I have a problem with what has been the traditional approach to Physical Education. My own point of view is that of a man now in his early sixties who joined a health club at the age of 57 and has been working with a succession of personal trainers on a bodybuilding program. I’m quite pleased with the results. I’m more fit than I ever was when I was young.

    Some people — way too many, it seems — need to recognize the fact that some kids, even boys, simply have no interest in sports. (I fell into that category when I was a boy.) They should not be penalized for their preference.

    The mandatory boys’ P.E. of my generation was a hypocritical fraud. I still remember school officials claiming that they were concerned about the students who were sedentary, yet no exercise programs were ever provided for nonathletic students. I never so much as heard the words “exercise program,” and no mention was ever made of bodybuilding. There also was hardly any instruction in the sports themselves! None of my P.E. teachers or coaches taught how the games of baseball, basketball, or football were played. We were never instructed how to throw a baseball or a football or how to toss a basketball. These acts of ball throwing are skills, which means they must be taught.

    Every single one of my P.E. coaches viewed nonathletic boys with either indifference or outright contempt. (Remember that the nonathletic kids had no choice. They had to take P.E. Otherwise, they would not have been there.) The bullying in mandatory P.E. classes was horrendous. Slightly built boys and overweight boys had only humiliation to look forward to in this class. All they ever learned from P.E. was to fear coaches and athlete classmates. Over the decades I’ve heard the same sad tale from other nonathletic guys.

    What’s especially hilarious about the “old P.E.” is that I didn’t get any exercise! The only time I may have perspired was out of fear of being humiliated or bullied.

    Of course, none of the problems of nonathletic boys in mandatory P.E. classes were of any concern to the policymakers or the P.E. establishment; but they were still forced to take P.E. anyway.

    Yes, I understand there have been some changes. At least in some school districts. I’ve heard of the excellent innovative PE4Life program, which actually promotes physical fitness instead of encouraging bullying of the nonathletic and those boys whose physiques are less than ideal. But I’ve also been told that the “old P.E.” is still around in some school districts.

    I hear people all the time express supposed concern for the fat kids. (By the way, I was never fat.) But I feel like screaming, “What KIND of P.E. program do you support?” Fat kids who are bullied in a traditional P.E. class will definitely not lose weight. Instead, they will turn to food for comfort and gain more weight.

    What is the solution? In my opinion, there must be a choice. Kids who have no use for sports should be allowed to follow an exercise program of their choice or one that is appropriate to their needs.

    The mandatory P.E. of my boyhood was a daily torment that caused me to have a low opinion of myself (you see, at the time I didn’t realize that I was being cheated by a class that was utterly useless to me) and definitely did NOT encourage me to become physically active. In stark contrast, I have thrived at my health club. I get more exercise in a single workout than I ever did in an entire year of mandatory sports-exclusive P.E. For the first time in my life, I’ve begun to feel comfortable with my body! I love the feeling of strength. A bodybuilding program would have given me a great deal of self-confidence when I was a teenager, a time in my life when I languished and just drifted along in a state of emotional numbness.

    I wish many more people would consider why a nonathletic guy who experienced only misery in mandatory sports-exclusive P.E. has been able to make a lot a progress at a health club. But it seems most people only care about sports and school athletes, the nonathletic boys be damned.

    Please don’t misunderstand. I have no problem with kids voluntarily participating in sports.

    If you have read this far, thank you for reading this long post.

    • Gymfinity on February 24, 2014 at 12:12 pm

      I hear you and though you may not believe it, I was not the athlete in my school either. In fact I was a wispy little kid who like non-traditional sports more than the ones that all young boys were supposed to play. I still don’t know how many people line up on a football field. I do believe that PE classes have evolved and though it will take time to change all programs and replace all dinosaur PE teachers, it is a work in progress. I am sure you are thriving in a health club environment because you receive specialized attention, as do the kids that attend our gym. But not all people can afford such programs and that is why PE and other programs, like music, art, and drama need to be maintained in our schools. You are correct that old school PE classes were actually making activity less desirable for some kids but with a little tweak to public education we can fix that. Simply basing classes off fitness activities and allowing sports training to be “extra-curricular” will be a start. Having kids pre and post test against themselves allows for a singular direction based on the individual and eliminates comparison to other kids in the school or worse; like a national standard. However, none of this is possible when politicians pick the low hanging fruit of school budget cutting rather than having to examine restructuring other more costly programs. These politicians probably feel that PE was a negative for them in school and would rather eliminate it than read the research that activity in school enhances academic learning. They would rather cut school operation than potentially offend the people who donate money to keep those politicos in their positions. It’s not about balancing a budget it’s about saving a politicians job at the cost of healthy development for children. It’s a sad case but it’s true.

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