Happy summer to you all! While I have been enjoying the outdoors and time with my fast-growing littles, I have also found some opportunities to continue thinking and learning as well, which is always nice. This past week, Dr. Blair Niblett invited me to guest lecture in his M.Ed class at Trent University. I was flattered to be there and the talk brought up some great questions and conversations about my area of research, and I wanted to share some of this with you for this post.
One of the questions I have continued to think about was put forth by a student who teaches in a police foundations program. He was curious about what to do with young people who struggle with fitness activities, such as the Beep Test (a standardized running test). He mentioned that his students have increasingly been having a harder time achieving a passing grade on the test, and it was troubling for him. As a person committed to helping others get more physically active, I get it! But, I am also a huge advocate for eliminating any and all standardized tests in PE; heck, really any standardized test cross-curricularly. Asking students to perform and get results on the exact same fitness task, when they are all built so totally different and individual is absurd to me.
The tricky part and what was brought up in the class was this question; ‘so, do we just let them become overweight and inactive if we aren’t pushing them in these ways?’ What do a lack of fitness testing and a push for intuitive eating look like for this generation, and is it actually good for them? This has come up a number of times at conferences and talks that I do, so I thought I would share my answer in a few points;
1.) The obesity epidemic is sensationalized in the media (Gard, 2002), in fact, a good majority of this generation are fit and healthy. ‘Fit’ and ‘healthy’ means different things to different people, however, and I think this is where confusion and discomfort often rest. A recent article published in the European Heart Journal found that individuals who are metabolically healthy (i.e blood pressure within a healthy range, cholesterol, blood sugar, and other indicators fall within a healthy range) yet overweight are at no greater risk of dying from heart disease or cancer than those who are of normal weight. What this means is that “we’re learning that a body that exercises regularly is generally a healthy body, whether that body is fat or thin,” shares Dr. Glenn Gaesser, a professor of wellness and exercise at Arizona State University.
2.) Once we get comfy with the fact that many different body sizes and shapes can be healthy, we can start to let go of our pre-conceived notions that one is not fit if they do not look like the model in the fitness magazine or do not run a specific distance on a running test. To achieve this specific ideal alienates the majority of the population, and may lead individuals towards a sedentary life, as they do not feel they will ever be able to conform to the very specific and prescribed ideals of health. Or, they might go so far the other way to achieve something their genetics do not allow, that they run into problems with eating disorders and addiction to exercise. We obviously don’t want either of these two scenarios for our young people.
3.) Tests such as the Beep Test and images of ideal, fit femininity represent the most recent version of healthism. Healthism, a term coined by Crawford (1980) is the belief that health can be achieved unproblematically through individual effort and discipline; furthermore, it represents a moral imperative to do so. In other words, in a neoliberal society, it is the job of the individual to achieve a healthy body; to fail at this is to fail yourself, and to fail the society in which you live (increased health care costs, etc.). This perspective misses an important marker of achieving good health; one’s sociodemographic status. A child who lives in an affluent neighborhood, with healthy food options that their parents can afford, and a plethora of organized sporting activities of their choosing is much more likely to achieve good health than the child of a single-parent who cannot afford healthy food, nor has the time or resources to cook that food or put their children into organized sport. This is a striking comparison when you think about it. Both of those kids may be standing on that starting line side by side, about to run the Beep Test.
So, for us educators and parents, what do we do with this information? It is important to remember that a healthy individual can look all kinds of different ways and can achieve good health in ways that are meaningful and sustainable to them. For this reason, I cannot stress the importance of giving our young people choice. If the beep test doesn’t work for you, how about a walking test, or a swimming test, climbing, X-country skiing; running while dribbling a soccer ball, whatever it is you love to do? We need to teach our young people that traveling down their own path towards good health is going to look different than the person beside them, both internally and externally.
Most importantly, let’s promote things that our children love to do to move their bodies. I think if we do this, we will speak more to this generation and we will become trusted allies on their paths towards good health and body acceptance.
Thank you for reading,