Tagged in: Physical and Health Education, Public Health, Uncategorized, Wellness

Shipwrecked Sailors, Jenny McCarthy, and Cupcakes at 8.

Listening to science for normalizing health and physical activity

January included a lot of travel for me. I traveled from my home in St. Louis, MO. three times to give presentations in Switzerland, Ontario, and Alberta. Thank goodness for podcasts! One of my favorite podcasts is the TED Radio Hour. If you haven’t downloaded this App, I encourage you to do so.

This particular podcast, What We Fear, stood out among the others. All three guests on the show were wonderful, but Karen Thompson Walker’s interview really struck a chord with me. So much so, that I when I returned home I watched her Ted Talk (below): What Fear Can Teach Us.

In her presentation, Thompson Walker tells how 20 American sailors were forced to three small boats when their ship sank 1 200 miles from the nearest land, and 10,000 miles from their home in 1819. The men were left with three options: 1) go to the nearest islands despite rumors of cannibalism; 2) chance vicious storms en route to a more distant Hawaii; or 3) attempt the furthest distance despite limited food sources and knowing that would need winds of specific force and direction to get them there. Due to the vivid imagery sounding cannibalism and dying in a vicious storm, the men chose perhaps the most difficult option - Option 3.

You are probably thinking, “Amanda, this is a physical education, sport and wellness blog...this is a little heavy.”

I get it.

Yet, as Thompson Walker tells the story of these ship wrecked sailors, I found myself making connections to several issues in today’s society.

For example, you must live under a rock if you haven’t heard about those ignoring the science around vaccinations and choosing not to vaccinate their children. I can’t help but think these people reach this conclusion because most are lucky enough not have had a first row ticket to how harmful certain diseases and conditions can be. They take the immunizations for granted and don’t vaccinate their children because autism (although no scientific link to measles or vaccinations in general) is more vivid in their daily lives than measles. Hence, the ignoring science thing.

And, while the anti-vaxxers are ignoring the science a lot of people are overt in criticizing them for doing so. All over the media, Jenny McCarthy and her posse are being silenced with ample doses of: What is wrong with you?

I am not a MD of infectious disease, but I am a trained researcher and I know that when a conclusion has been drawn based on unethical and inaccurate research proceedings - you don’t formulate conclusions based on that research. So, here I am left wondering, how can so many of this people criticizing the anti-vaxxers also be okay standing around watching our children and youth live lives distant from their potential due to physical inactivity norms that they are accepting. These same people, who are quick (and, rightfully so in my humble opinion) to be frustrated with anti-vaxxers stand around and say or tolerate others saying:

Slow down

Stay inside

Don’t climb

We will serve cupcakes at 8 a.m. for a birthday party

Reward with junk (I’m not calling it food)

Punish with exercise (great message - ugh)

Stay in from recess

Let’s cut back physical education to improve reading scores


Posting signs such as this...

No Skateboarding

Do I need to continue?

Based on Thompson Walker’s message it appears that many parents, policy makers, and school administrators would rather make certain choices which result in sedentary norms to avoid the potential for a more vivid consequences - such as a broken bone, a cracked skull, a bloody knee. But, what are we doing? If we really listened to the science we would be normalizing health and physical activity and providing children and youth with more opportunities to develop their physical competence and enjoy movement.

If you are thinking, “But if one child is sedentary, it doesn’t harm anyone else like failing to vaccinate your child for certain conditions can?”

My response?

When we fail to support children and youth to live life to its fullest potential, we are harming others. We directly contribute to a society that is filled with many conditions that are preventable with healthy living. Physical activity can’t prevent all diseases or conditions, but the science tells us a lot that it can prevent and or reduce. These conditions range from physical and emotional to economical.

I’m tired of people picking and choosing when to allow science to guide our decision making. We can’t get kids to learn unless we first address the poor state of health so many are in. The story shared by Thompson Walker had a sad ending. Over the half the crew died. It’s time society gets serious about health, or else our ending - while perhaps less vivid - will continue on the path that includes millions of citizens not tapping their potential.

  • Simone Killian

    Hi Amanda,
    A very convincing article regarding activity for our youth. I agree completely that we need to provide more time for students to play. Recess has been chopped down to barely 7 minutes in some schools and lunch is barely 45 mins including the wolfing down food part.

    • Thank you so much for commenting, Simone. Considering what we know about physical activity and the brain and physical/mental health these numbers are more than alarming. Administrators need to rethink an approach that clearly isn’t increasing test scores or increasing students’ health. There are way too few opportunities for kids to move and it makes me sad.