Various studies have been conducted on the physical and emotional benefits of student exercise. Below is a synthesis of two such articles, one from a medical perspective and another from an urban studies lens.
In their respective works, Castillo et al. and Hoffman et al. recognize both the barriers to and benefits of frequent physical activity for students in urban environments. In addition to their agreements, the two research groups complement each other well in their differing areas of focus. Castillo et al. investigate the effects of rigorous physical education in schools while Hoffman et al. looks to further understand the existing and potential ways that community cycling initiatives can enrich the lives of youth in urban environments. With one study focused on schools and the other on the greater communities around them, the two research groups reveal how increasing physical activity in urban youth is a far-reaching endeavor that should not end when the final school bell rings.
Assessing the Problem
Castillo et al. (2015) reports that “16.9% of American children and adolescents are obese, and racial/ethnic minorities are at a greater risk than non-Hispanic whites” (p.753). Such a statistic is troublesome due to the host of health risks associated with obesity and inactivity, which is “among the major leading causes of chronic illnesses from childhood to adulthood” (Hoffman, et al., 2014 p. 301). It is crucial to remember that non-white children are not inherently predisposed towards obesity more so than their white peers, but that the current structures, particularly in urban environments, limit minority youth’s access to daily exercise. Hoffman et al. (2014) note fear of theft and lack of safe cycling infrastructure as barriers to students commuting to school by bike and Castillo et al. (2015) similarly state that “neighborhood safety concerns, financial constraints, [and] lack of access to safe playgrounds and organized activities” as limitations to physical activities in general in urban areas (p.753).
The combined publications of Castillo et. al. and Hoffman et al. demonstrate that combatting the inequalities in access to exercise across class, race, and environmental lines will require a community wide approach that includes schools if students are to live healthier and happier lives in the future (Hoffman et al. (2014) draw attention to scientific literature that correlates physical activity with “higher self-esteem and less depressive and anxiety-related symptomology (p.301)). Cycling to and from school each day presents an excellent way for students to use the limited time they have to exercise each day. However, community groups must advocate for safe cycling routes as well as safe bike storage spaces on school grounds if they wish to see these potential benefits realized (Hoffman et al., 2014). Similarly, if schools are invested in the health and well-being of their students, they must look to incorporate mandatory physical education into their curriculum. Castillo et al. (2015) note that “only 3.8% of public and private schools” required physical education as of 2015 (p.753). Such a low number places the onus of daily physical activity on already stretched parents and communities when the responsibility should be distributed widely. The United States has decided that education should be a public good for all children. The opportunity to live a healthy lifestyle should be treated similarly, physical health and well-being should not be a luxury only for those who can afford it.
Castillo, J. C., Clark, B. R., Butler, C. E., & Racette, S. B. (2015). Support for Physical Education as a Core Subject in Urban Elementary Schools. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 49(5), 753-776. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2015.04.015
Hoffman, M. F., Hayes, S., & Napolitano, M. A. (2014). Urban Youth’s Experiences and Perceptions of a Community Cycling Initiative. Urban Studies, 51(2), 300-318. http://www.jstor.org/stable/26145717