It Does More Harm Than Good for School Districts to Shut Down Some Sports, Activities   — Voice of San Diego

Fulton K-8 students play at the school’s new multi-sport stadium, shortly after the dedication ceremony on May 5, 2015. / Photo by Dustin Mickelson

As we enter our third year of the pandemic, forecasters anticipate another ugly winter. But this time, children as well as adults are affected by the COVID Omicron variant. Although healthy eating and exercise are a scientifically proven way to prevent hospitalization and serious symptoms of COVID-19, these measures have been largely ignored by California public schools.

In addition to not focusing on exercise, San Diego Unified School District leaders have closed all “extracurricular” and “off-season” sports including soccer, weightlifting, baseball, conditioning softball and band or cheer practice.

In terms of intent to mitigate the spread of the Omicron variant, these actions do more harm than good. To keep our students safe, it is imperative that there be a greater focus on healthy exercise habits in California public schools, especially here in San Diego.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 78 percent of people who were hospitalized, needed a ventilator, or died of COVID-19 were overweight or obese. The CDC also reports that 20 percent of children and teens in the United States are obese. Rather than focusing all of their attention on other prevention strategies like wearing a mask, staying at least three feet away from others and washing hands, schools should reinforce the importance of eating right, exercising and managing weight as a way to prevent COVID.

Research suggests that people who exercised regularly and then tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 were less likely to experience more severe COVID-19 outcomes. Therefore, it is essential for schools to implement comprehensive physical activity programs with good physical education as the cornerstone. Children and teens should get at least 60 minutes of supervised physical activity each day and be encouraged to participate in sports after school. San Diego Unified School District’s decision to close extracurricular and off-season sports limits students’ ability to play sports in a controlled and supervised environment. The district’s actions are counterproductive and contradict research suggesting that more exercise means a lower risk of severe COVID-19.

Research has also confirmed that being overweight is a contributing factor to exacerbating the ill effects of COVID and it appears that this deadly virus may be around for a long time, so it is imperative that educators promote a healthy lifestyle to prevent COVID. Schools should begin to integrate nutrition education into daily lesson plans across the curriculum to encourage healthy choices. Regular physical activity to reduce the severity of COVID disease should be promoted by school districts and public health agencies.

School closures have kept students safe during the pandemic, leading to a different set of risks: anxiety, stress, depression and other serious mental health conditions negatively affecting students and their families. Many public school teachers agree that they were not prepared to deal with mental health issues and other effects that distance learning had on their students when they returned to in-person teaching. The lack of physical activity during school closures and the abundance of screen time during distance learning exacerbated physical and mental health problems among students.

Most teachers on the front lines are already being vaccinated against COVID and while public health experts say vaccines are an important component of keeping schools safe and avoiding quarantine disruptions, school districts should also provide “staff wellness programs” that include healthy eating and physical activity services for teachers and all school staff . Workplace wellness programs can improve employee productivity while reducing absenteeism and employee health care costs such as those associated with COVID.

To help prevent the ill effects of COVID variants and boost our students’ immune system, schools must support healthy eating and physical activity from the playground to the classroom so that we can beat COVID and other diseases in the future. By adopting reasonable guidelines, schools can educate students in more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic. Instead of backlashes like canceling the sports curriculum and off-season sports, schools can offer the tools and resources students need to lead healthy, active lives and reduce childhood obesity.

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