Cape lawmaker seeks student exercise mandate

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AUGUSTA — A bill aimed at increasing physical activity for students in kindergarten through grade 5 by mandating 30 minutes of exercise each school day is pending in the state Legislature.

Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, introduced LD 378, “An Act to Promote Physical Activity for Schoolchildren.”

A March 31 work session by 11 members of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee indicated support for the bill. However, in an informal vote, only four panel members recommended the bill. Seven members did not.

The bill’s essence combines increased academic performance in the classroom with better physical health: Can being in better shape improve classroom grades?

Millett believes so.

“Too many of our children do not get regular, meaningful time for physical activity, especially during the school day,” Millett said in a statement. “We elected officials need to do our part to address this issue so that Maine kids are not only healthier, but better learners.”

Over the past decade in states beyond Maine, legislators are asking themselves the same question. That’s because an increased focus on preparing for standardized tests plus boosting academic requirements and standards has squeezed out play time for book time.

Chicago-based advocacy group Action for Healthy Kids on its website explains the mind-body-brain connection.

“Kids who don’t eat nutritiously and enjoy regular physical activity are at an academic disadvantage,” a posting notes.

And, the problem can get worse as a child gets older.

“By adolescence, 31 percent of American youth are already overweight or obese. By military recruitment age, 70 percent of Americans are unfit to serve due to lack of physical fitness, criminal records, or poor education,” according to a statement from Millett’s office.

Locally, Education and Cultural Affairs Committee members include Sens. Matthea Daughtry, D-Brunswick, Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, and Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland.

The bill now moves to the full Senate for a hearing and initial votes affecting its future. A hearing date has not been set.

Lisa D. Connell can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or Follow Lisa on Twitter: @connell_ld.