Assistant Commissioner Richard Ten Eyck
May 15, 2003
First Lady Dina Matos McGreevey, Commissioner Lacey, Secretary Kuperus,
honored guests. Thank you for inviting me to be part of this important
conference on childrens health. I would like to share with you
how the Department of Education plans to address the serious health
problems that have developed among our nations children.
According to the June 200 report issued by the national Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), entitled Formative Research
for a Campaign to Promote Healthy Weight Using Relevant Physical Activity
and Nutrition Messages for Youth, current trends point to the need
for more aggressive strategies to prevent and reduce obesity among young
people. Recent studies report that an estimated 15 percent of children
6-19 years old are overweight. For adults, the statistics are double
31 percent of adults 20 years and older or 59 million adults
are obese compared to 23 percent in 1994.
The most dangerous side effect of obesity is the link to increased
risk for physical ailments throughout life, including serious conditions
such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes,
cancer, and psychological disorders to name just a few. As a society,
we must make a commitment to reverse this trend much the way we have
done with smoking and alcohol consumption.
To counter these trends, the CDC has begun to develop a comprehensive
national strategy to prevent obesity among the youth of America.
The study utilized focus groups to help researchers understand peoples
beliefs and issues pertaining to healthy and unhealthy eating, including
how school programs and parents affect young peoples eating habits
and physical activity levels.
Among the findings, many of the young people knew the fundamentals
of eating healthy, although few reported doing it. They admitted they
prefer unhealthy food but many did not realize how little nutritional
value those foods have.
Another finding is significant as we try to improve the eating habits
of students. Students reported that parents and school health classes
are their initial sources of information as younger children, but kids
tend model what their parents behaviors are rather than what parents
say should be done. If the parent reads labels and selects healthy foods,
there is a strong influence for the child to do the same. Having a friend
that has healthy eating habits is another strong influence.
It is important that we understand the nuances of how habits of good
nutrition and physical activity are influenced, because it is not enough
to simply present facts to students. Our health habits are influenced
by many factors, and we must create a norm that reinforces healthy behaviors
constantly in school, at home, and in the community. There are also
cultural differences that influence a childs development of health
Schools have enormous potential for helping students develop the knowledge
and skills they need to be healthy and to achieve academically. When
schools promote healthy eating and regular physical activity, they contribute
to the basic health status of children, thereby optimizing their performance
potential to ensure that "no child is left behind." From the
point of view of the education system, the effects of obesity and poor
health on learning are of extreme concern.
As educators, we must take advantage of the time we have with children
in school to help them adopt behaviors that support a healthy, active
lifestyle. We need to engage their parents and the community to serve
as role models and to support childrens efforts to live healthier
School staffadministrators and teachers alikeare forced
to concentrate their energies on what the system dictatesacademic
achievement, test scores, and school report cards. However, educators
have long recognized the relationship between a childs health
and his/her ability to perform in school.
Teachers know that hungry children have difficulty concentrating and
that children who are obese are often bullied and harassed.
They know that children who lack stamina and fitness often find it
difficult to meet the demands of the regular school day.
They know that children who have chronic illnesses, such as asthma
or diabetes, face even greater challenges. Children who are not healthy
may not even be in school and even when they are in school, they may
be distracted, under stress, or exhausted.
In times of diminishing resources, educators must make hard choices,
but we cannot ignore the connection between health and learning.
For example, the part of the brain that processes movement is the
same part that processes learning. More than 80 studies suggest strong
links between the cerebellum and memory, spatial perception, language,
attention, emotions and nonverbal cues. The findings strongly implicate
the value of physical education, movement, dance, and games in boosting
In 2001, the California Department of Education released a study that
correlated the results of state-mandated fitness testing to achievement
on the required Stanford Achievement Test. The analysis showed a significant
relationship between academic achievement and physical fitness. In other
words, students with higher test scores were more likely to also have
higher fitness scores.
What are we doing in New Jersey to stem the tide of obesity and better
prepare our students to make sound decisions about their health and
New Jersey has had a mandate for health, safety, and physical education
since 1917. While many states adopted similar legislation around that
time, New Jerseys mandate is one of the few that continues to
require all students in grades 1-12 to participate in health and physical
In support of the mandate, the New Jersey comprehensive health and
physical education Core Curriculum Content Standards were first adopted
by the State Board of Education in 1996. An updated version of the standards
is being considered for adoption by the state board this summer.
The standards progressively prepare and empower students to use higher
order thinking skills to address a myriad of wellness issues, now and
throughout their lifetimes.
The standards focus on health, wellness, and lifestyle management
with the goal of helping each child to develop and maintain a healthy,
They provide schools with the structure to develop and implement a
"wellness" curriculum that promotes the adoption of health-enhancing
behaviors, such as healthy eating and regular physical activity.
In 1999, the department published a curriculum framework that provides
schools and teachers with sample learning activities to meet the standards.
In addition, the framework focuses on how to develop a quality, standards-based
The revised 2003 standards provide schools and teachers with a stronger
framework for curriculum and assessment. Smaller grade-level clusters
outline developmentally-appropriate content and skills, which are more
rigorous and specific. The standards are organized by strandsthat
is, subsections within each standard that identify specific content.
For example, nutrition is a separate strand. Students in grades K-2
are expected to explain why some foods are healthier to eat than others.
In grades 3-4, students must be able to classify foods by group, source,
nutritional content and nutritional value.
By the time students reach middle school, they must be able to discuss
the short- and long-term benefits and risks associated with their food
By the time they graduate from high school, New Jersey students should
be able to design and evaluate a nutrition plan for a healthy, young
Now lets look at fitness.
Students in grades K-2 are expected to engage in moderate to vigorous
physical activity that develops all components of fitness.
In grades 3-4, students must be able to explain how the body responds
to vigorous exercise and be able to monitor physiological responses
such as heart rate before, during, and after exercise.
By the end of middle school, New Jersey students must be able to perform
at the intensity level needed to enhance cardiovascular fitness and
must be able to measure target and recovery heart rates.
Finally, by the time students graduate, they should be able to develop
and implement a training and fitness plan that considers their health
status, interests, and skill levels.
This is but a sample of our commitment to healthier students. The
core standards also address issues such as substance abuse, social and
emotional health, and disease prevention.
This is a subject area that lends itself to authentic assessment.
In fact, physical education teachers have long used rubrics to gauge
student performance during activity. With the introduction of technology,
student assessment becomes more objective and allows both student and
teacher to use data to drive instruction. Later today, you will hear
about several New Jersey schools that have won awards to incorporate
technology into their physical education programs.
In health education, the department recently joined the Health Education
Assessment Project, a 23-state collaboration sponsored by the Council
of Chief State School Officers.
This project provides the state with a bank of test items, including
performance tasks, that can be used by teachers in the classroom to
assess student progress.
Assessment training, in conjunction with staff from Rowan University,
will begin in the 2003-04 school year.
During lunch, the department will debut a video developed in collaboration
with the New Jersey Council for Physical Fitness and Sports and NJN.
The "fitness for life" video showcases the "New PE"
--physical education classes in Paterson, Ridgewood, Mount Laurel, and
The "fitness for life" campaign, supported with funds from
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will be broadcast
on NJN as a series of five public service announcements. In addition,
NJN will sponsor a Web page that will feature the video clips and information
on fitness and health. There is a wealth of information in the extensive
research on the CDC Web site at www.cdc.gov
Not limited to the gym or the classroom, comprehensive and coordinated
school health programs provide prevention, intervention, and referral
services that positively impact childrens health and academic
The coordinated school health team teachers, nurses, social
workers, counselors all contribute to the physical, social, and
emotional health of the child. Later today, you will hear about some
of the promising research that supports the concept of coordinated school
health and its impact on academic success.
We are all part of the problemwe all eat too much and ride when
we should walk. We are not always the best role models for our children.
But we have the power to change our own behavior and in the bargain
improve our own health and fitness, as well as our childrens and
We have an opportunity to be part of the solution a solution
that requires us to be collaborative, vigorous, and persistent.
The Surgeon Generals Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease
Overweight and Obesity 2000 recommend some actions we can take to
make the climate more positive for healthy lifestyles. At home we can
reduce time spent sitting in front of television or computer screens
and build physical activity into as many parts of our routines as possible.
In schools, we should ensure that the school breakfast and lunch programs
meet nutritional standards and provide less calories, and we should
provide all children from preschool to grade 12 with quality daily physical
Even the community has a responsibility to promote healthy choices,
encourage businesses that offer healthy food and beverages, and create
opportunities for physical activity for the family.
Another resource for schools as they create programs to promote health
is the publication "Fit, Healthy, and ready to Learn: A School
Health Policy Guide" that provides direction on establishing an
overall policy framework for school health programs for use by states
and school districts. The guidelines are a collaborative effort of the
CDC and the National Association of State Boards of Education.
We are glad to be part of this Action for Healthy Kids initiative
and look forward to working with the Governor, the Departments of Agriculture
and Health and Senior Services on projects that will ensure both the
health and academic success of our 1.345 million children.