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Florida fights childhood obesity with new gym rule

Schools must comply with a state law requiring children in kindergarten through fifth grade to receive 30 minutes of continuous physical education every day.

Workout: Students exercise at Forest Hills Elementary in Coral Springs, Fla.

Richard Luscombe

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James Destilus and Kenneth Gutierrez want to be on the football team when they move up to middle school next year. Mike Lawson prefers basketball. And Lauren Rebaza and Jhullyza Calderon will try out for swimming.

The fifth-graders might have different sporting ambitions, but they're working toward their goals in the same way: strutting around their classroom, flapping their arms like roosters, and singing at the top of their voices to a song called "Chicken Fat."

It's great fun for the students, but this unorthodox approach to fitness also has its serious side. It helps the school, Forest Hills Elementary in Coral Springs, Fla., comply with a state law that came into effect this semester requiring children in kindergarten through fifth grade to receive 30 minutes of continuous physical education every day.

While efforts within the education system to curb soaring rates of childhood obesity are not new, Florida's recent inclusion of the word "continuous" presents a specific difficulty to schools trying to juggle already crowded curricula.

Before the law was implemented, there were reports of some schools including the children's walk to the cafeteria at lunchtime as part of a looser requirement of 150 minutes' exercise, in any combination, per week.

"There's no doubt this was a challenge, and we had a lot of planning to do, sitting down with our teachers to find a way to get this exercise in without disrupting their schedule," says Vince Dawes, assistant principal of Forest Hills Elementary, which has 620 students.

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