• Sumo

By Ken Reed

Due to factors such as the dramatic decline in physical education classes and intramurals in K-12, and a huge increase in screen time (computers, video games, social media), along with an increase in processed junk food and Super-Size-Me fast food meals, today’s high school and college students are, on a whole, more overweight, obese and physically inactive than their counterparts from decades past.

Most colleges aren’t helping matters. According to a 2013 study, the number of college students with physical education requirements is at an all-time low.

However, a couple colleges are doing something about it.

At League of Fans, we’ve written about Spelman College in Atlanta in the past. They dropped their varsity athletics program in favor of a fitness and nutrition program for all students.

“When we studied this early this year, I was startled to see that we really only had 80 student athletes out of 2,100 students (in varsity athletics), and our program was costing almost $1 million,” said Beverly Daniel Tatum, the college president.

Tatum decided that when it comes to wellness, all students need to be athletes, in terms of becoming more physically active. In addition to dropping varsity athletics, Spelman’s physical education classes moved from a sports focus toward general fitness.

Highlands College in Alabama has taken things a step further. All Highlands College students are required to run a half marathon together (along with some faculty and staff members). If students have medical problems that don’t allow them to run the half-marathon, they are given alternative physical activities to do.

While making all students run a half-marathon might seem a little overbearing on the part of college administrators, the requirement is well-known and communicated in multiple ways to prospective students. Students know what they are getting into when they enroll at Highlands.

The half-marathon is part of a broad-based health and fitness plan for Highlands students. Students have access to excellent gym facilities and a healthy-focused meal service plan. Once a week, everyone participates in an intramural activity of their choice and the school participates in a tough mudder-esque event in the spring.

Highlands students have discovered there are benefits beyond just improved physical health.

“Especially when you’re new, you’re kind of skeptical, because you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can barely run a mile,” Highlands student Heather Archer told Runner’s World, fresh from one of the last sessions of her 6 a.m. Friday morning run group. “But Highlands College has really shown me what it is to be healthy, and when you’re healthy, your mentality is better, your outlook is better.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

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