New Ideas in the Fight Against Childhood Obesity

Earlier this week, NDN's Globalization Initiative released a major new paper entitled A Laptop in Every Backpack.  Part of our Series of Modest Proposals to Build 21st Century Skills, the paper argures that:

Achieving the American Dream in this century increasingly requires fluency in the ways of this network and its tools – how to acquire information and do research, how to construct reports and present ideas using these new tools, how to type and even edit video.  We believe we need a profound and urgent national commitment to give this powerful new 21st knowledge, essential for success in this century, to all American school children. 

We believe that America needs to put a laptop in every backpack of every child.  We need to commit to a date and grade certain: we suggest 2010 for every sixth grader.   These laptops need to be wirelessly connected to the Internet, and children need to be able to take them home.  Local school districts should choose how best to do this, but there needs to be federal funding and simple, federal standards.  Funds and strategies for how training our teachers to lead this transformation need to be part this commitment. 

And in 10 states, educators are dealing with another challenge, childhood obesity, in an innovative way that takes advantage of emerging technology:

Children don’t often yell in excitement when they are let into class, but as the doors opened to the upper level of the gym at South Middle School here one recent Monday, the assembled students let out a chorus of shrieks.

In they rushed, past the Ping-Pong table, past the balance beams and the wrestling mats stacked unused. They sprinted past the ghosts of Gym Class Past toward two TV sets looming over square plastic mats on the floor. In less than a minute a dozen seventh graders were dancing in furiously kinetic union to the thumps of a techno song called “Speed Over Beethoven.”

Bill Hines, a physical education teacher at the school for 27 years, shook his head a little, smiled and said, “I’ll tell you one thing: they don’t run in here like that for basketball.”

It is a scene being repeated across the country as schools deploy the blood-pumping video game Dance Dance Revolution as the latest weapon in the nation’s battle against the epidemic of childhood obesity. While traditional video games are often criticized for contributing to the expanding waistlines of the nation’s children, at least several hundred schools in at least 10 states are now using Dance Dance Revolution, or D.D.R., as a regular part of their physical education curriculum.

Based on current plans, more than 1,500 schools are expected to be using the game by the end of the decade. Born nine years ago in the arcades of Japan, D.D.R. has become a small craze among a generation of young Americans who appear less enamored of traditional team sports than their parents were and more amenable to the personal pursuits enabled by modern technology.