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European Law Monitor NewsPhysical education should be compulsory in schools

Physical education should be compulsory in school and children should have at least three physical education lessons a week, says an own-initiative report adopted by MEPs with 590 votes in favour 56 against and 21 abstentions. The number of children who are overweight or obese is growing by an estimated 400,000 per year, yet, according to a study for the Culture Committee, the average time that primary schools allocate to physical education has fallen from 121 to 109 minutes per week since 2002.

The report calls on Member States to make physical education compulsory in primary and secondary schools, ensure that the timetable includes at least three physical education lessons a week, and ensure "a higher degree of integration" between sports and academic subjects.
MEPs underline that physical education is the only school subject that seeks to prepare children for a healthy lifestyle and focuses on their physical and mental development.
MEPs also stress the need for better sports facilities and recommends that EU structural funds be used to create school and other sports facilities in disadvantaged areas.
The rapporteur, Pál SCHMITT (EPP-ED, HU) said in the debate in Strasbourg on 12 November: "I am happy that the role of sport has not been forgotten in the Lisbon Treaty.   Inactive lifestyles are becoming a serious danger to health, we can't afford to neglect an important tool as the physical education"
"As a former Olympic champion, as a sports leader and as a Member of the European Parliament, it is my obligation to see how EU can contribute to the fight against obesity and promote healthy lifestyles and sport though education. Regular exercise is important and therefore it should be obligatory to have at least three lessons of physical education a week in schools."

Child obesity and sport

The report urges the Member States to carry out information campaigns on the need to adopt a healthy lifestyle, and engage in regular physical activity and on the health risks linked to an unhealthy diet aimed at children from a very early age and their parents.
The House stresses the importance of physical exercise in curbing obesity and overcoming unhealthy life-style habits, thereby greatly benefiting individual health, expresses concern, however, that longer working hours and present-day conditions of employment in general, are preventing workers from taking regular physical exercise and becoming more involved in sport.
A study commissioned by the Parliament's Culture and Education Committee and written by a British academic (see link below) says that "in some Member States the lack of sporting facilities...and PE teachers put physical education in a difficult situation". It concluded that "PE is often sacrificed to other academic subjects".
The number of EU children affected by overweight and obesity is estimated to be rising by more than 400,000 a year, adding to the 14 million-plus of the EU population who are already overweight (including at least 3 million obese children) [COM(2005)0637, Green paper "Promoting healthy diets and physical activity: a European dimension for the prevention of overweight, obesity and chronic diseases"] across the entire EU27, overweight affects almost 1 in 4 children. Spain, Portugal and Italy report overweight and obesity levels exceeding 30% among children aged 7-11. The rates of the increase in childhood overweight and obesity vary, with England and Poland showing the steepest increases. In overall terms, children are less fit compared to the generation of the 1970s and 1980s. It is not such much a higher calorie intake that causes overweight, but physical inactivity: children do not eat more - they move less.

Further information:

Role of sport in education
Verbal fencing with MEP Schmitt
Current situation and prospects for physical education in the EU
Is more sport the answer to child obesity?
Text, as adopted by the EU on 13 November, will shortly be available here