Siri, What Should I Expect in Texas?

Children Playing

Hurley Riley III

Growing up I spent most of my free time outside playing basketball, riding bikes, and searching for bugs. Similar to many American children, I favored technological advancements and began opting to stay indoors to play video games, watch YouTube videos, and change my Myspace layout.

The proliferation of media devices and processed foods make it no surprise that American obesity rates have more than tripled since the 1970s. It is estimated that less than half of American children achieve the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day. These alarming statistics are actually part of the reason that I began exploring public health. I was ecstatic when I discovered that the University of Michigan School of Public Health offers PH 615: Public Health in Action, a course that gives students the opportunity to make an impact on problems such as childhood obesity.

Rather than enjoying the wonderful Michigan weather over spring break, I will be traveling with eight other PH 615 students to South Texas. Out of the three project options, I was assigned to my favorite project- interviewing physical education teachers to assess school physical activity policies in Brownsville, Texas.

Since children spend about half of their waking-day at school, the school day makes an effective platform for engaging students in physical activity. Physical activity has been shown to help students improve concentration, classroom behavior, as well as math and reading test scores. Now I see why I was such a misbehaved child- I just needed to be more active. When I think back, the only physical activity I remember during elementary school was my 15-minute recess and once-per-week gym class.

Unfortunately, this is still the case for many schools. Schools have the competing demands of academics, budget cuts, and tired students which make it difficult to spend a larger portion of the school day being active. I can't wait to find out more about the Brownsville elementary schools' policies regarding physical activity. The information we gather will be used to help develop a plan to improve the schools' physical activity programs.

Every day I wake up thrilled that we're one day closer to our trip. These past few weeks I've had so many questions running through my mind. What should I expect? Will I adjust to the cultural differences? What should I pack? I'm excited to find out the answers to my endless list of questions in these next two weeks. Needless to say, I'm even more excited to play a role in improving physical activity programs while adding to my public health tool box.

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