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Opinions of Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Columnist: Asola, Eugene F.

P.E. Advocacy Letter to Parliament

Dear Parliamentarians!

The advent of economic and technological advancements in today’s world has brought some unintended consequences in relation to our health conditions in general. Automobiles have come to replace walking to even the nearest possible distance while sedentary lifestyle has plagued our health conditions to unprecedented levels that cannot easily be compared to one or two decades ago. As good as technology and science could be, the understanding of what this is meant to do for humans and applications by many people seem to rather affect society’s active lifestyles. Improvements in economies and technology have reduced many active lifestyles to sedentary living which leaves mankind for the most part susceptible to adverse health conditions. Ghana is no exception. To reduce or prevent human susceptibility to physical inactivity related diseases, Physical Education and Physical Activity programs have to be designed to enable people augment as it were the inadequate physically active life they live now.

Physical activity has been identified by many researchers as an important predictor of the short and long term health of children (Baranowski, Bouchard, & Bar-Or, 1994; Biddle, Gorely, & Stensel, 2004; Sallis & Patrick, 1994). Many evidence show that sedentary behavior is a risk factor for certain kinds of diseases which develop over the lifetime (USDHHS, 1996), and additional evidence points to the fact that patterns of physical activity established in youth may persist into adulthood (Sallis, Simons-Morton, & Stone, 1992). In recent population surveys, indications are that many youth are not meeting current activity guidelines (Sallis, Prochaska, & Taylor, 2000). Specifically, recent evidence shows that over 30% of American and Canadian children are not active enough to meet international guidelines for optimal growth and development (CFLRI, 2002; USDHHS, 2004). The current rise in obesity (Lee, H. 2006) has been linked to several factors including physical inactivity. Current data available therefore calls for an understanding of the determinants of activity in youth in order to develop effective PE programs designed to promote and maintain physical activity engagement.

Two behavioral settings that are predominant in physical activity among youth are schools and the community. Schools are important physical, social and normative environments in which students observe, imitate, learn and practice health behaviors. Some researchers have found that participation in physical activity programs is associated with high levels of physical activity in children (McKenzie, Marshall, and Sallis & Conway 2000). Acquiring and maintaining physically active lifestyles can be challenging due to many factors including laid down policies by government, individual and group interest, type of physical education program, opportunities for acquiring the necessary skills ( herein being the schools in Ghana), and the motivation to maintain and sustain such behaviors over a lifetime.

I will always remember the late Dr. Opoku-Fianko for these words; “where are we going? And why can’t we get there?” Now! I understand what he meant by these words because I know and understand what a quality PE program should be in today’s society. We as Ghanaians may not know where we are going with sports until we have a plan (Include physical education as a means to achieving Physical Activity and Healthy Living in the Sports Bill) Please permit me to be a little formal here dear readers. According to the American National Association for Sports and Physical Education (NASPE), a quality PE program should have four critical elements; 1. The program should provide opportunities for children/students to learn, 2. The PE content provided should be meaningful to learners based on set standards and benchmarks, 3. There should be guidelines for providing appropriate instruction by qualified certified PE teachers, and lastly, 4. Students should be assessed on what they are learning or have learned. Now can you tell if there is any sports program in Ghana that addresses these qualities? we all know the answer. The difference I anticipate this (inclusion of PE in the PAHL Bill) will bring may include not only short term benefits for the highly skilful players of different games and sports as we see today but also the long term benefits of healthy lifestyles among all less skilled Ghanaians who will know why?, how? and when to exercise? Sports in general does not cater fully for this aspect of nurturing our citizens to be knowledgeable in physical education and the benefits of physical activity, but physical education does, because it is a learning process that will eventually change the inactive lifestyles of most Ghanaians to being active. We all know what a healthy population can do in terms of efficiency at work and levels of production!

Bedworth & Bedworth, (1992), defines health as the quality of people’s physical, psychological, and sociological functioning that enables them to deal with the self and others in a variety of personal and social situations. They argue that a cognitive based approach (teaching PE in Ghanaian schools) will provide benchmarks and content knowledge for which a person’s behavior can be measured; a concept that provides factual information and expansion of the health knowledge base of the individual. According to Bedworth & Bedworth, (1992) knowing what and why you have to behave or live a certain lifestyle will serve as a precedent for others to emulate depending on your role as either a health educator or professional PE teacher or participant. Ladies and Gentlemen! We need Physical Education as the vehicle that will drive the PAHL Bill. PE will empower teachers and other professionals to teach the concepts that stress the importance of establishing short and long term goals that focuses on social change as well as educating individuals to make informed lifestyle choices (Beard, C. & Wilson, J. P. (2006). The PAHL Bill with PE included will lift self-efficacy of individuals which can affect their social life and activity levels (Bandura, 1997). Even though physical inactivity is not a disease per se, of late, it has become a means through which most people acquire diseases and other related ailments that affects lifestyle in general. We as professional PE teachers lack the power to enforce PE as a subject at many levels in our curriculum. (Where are we going? ( I cannot tell with no meaningful sports bill to direct us) Why can’t we get there? ( Probably, because there is no emphasis on teaching PE from Kindergarten through University level).

Suffice to say that established behaviors are very difficult to change and may sometimes take a rather long period to give up. The years studying PE in our schools may help this course. Personally, it may depend on an individual’s preparedness to accept the change for a better lifestyle, if such behavior (physical inactivity) is seen to be detrimental to one’s health. Consequently, the individual must have some enforcers as a motivation to changing a behavior. I believe the PAHL Bill with PE included will definitely serve as an enforcer, because many regularly active people in Ghana, who know the benefits derived from participating in exercise, do so based on personal or active sports participation at higher levels.

The social cognitive theory explains how people acquire and maintain certain behavioral patterns, while also providing the basis for intervention strategies (Bandura, 1997). Social change philosophy (Geiger, 1992) proposes education as a force for achieving change. According to this theory, education is closely connected with social, political and economic understanding with emphasis on raising awareness for responsible action, and specifically for physically active lives. In Ghana, the inclusion of Physical Education in the PAHL Bill will be a step in the right direction for a better future and health status of our country. Please do not hesitate! Do it now! Now is the time!!!

Times and conditions have changed with the dynamics of society, politics and economic factors. Body size and weight categories have doubled or quadrupled in some cases to the detriment of one’s health in general. Whereas this has become a norm in some communities or social class settings, the same cannot be said in other health conscious living settings. Many young and old people may or may not engage in physical activity or exercise based on their past experiences growing up as a child. Physical Education as a means will attract people of diverse backgrounds, ages and sizes to learn and regularly practice these healthy behaviors, please! Let us give PE a chance Politicians!!! Make PE the Head Corner Stone for Ghana’s general sports development agenda THANK YOU! The writer can be reached through;

Eugene F. Asola Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Exercise and Sport Science Department

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

216 Mitchell Hall, La Crosse WI 54601 Email: asola.euge@uwlax.edu Office phone: 608 785 8167