DENVER (AP) – Colorado lawmakers gave initial approval Monday to requiring 30 minutes a day of physical activity at elementary schools — a move certain to please the Legislature’s youngest constituents.

“I like that. Going to recess is fun,” said 9-year-old Nathanial Guzman, a 4th grader at Knowledge Quest Academy in Milliken, Colo. “Personally, I don’t think our brains would work if we didn’t exercise enough.”

The proposals co-sponsor, Rep. Tom Massey, liked Guzman’s endorsement. “Perfect, there’s our tagline right there.”

The House Education Committee approved the proposal Monday to be voted by the full House. If approved, Colorado would be joining a growing number of states calling for increased physical activity and physical education in schools to address childhood obesity. The District of Columbia and nine states, including Arizona, Mississippi and Delaware, enacted legislation relating to physical activity in schools in 2010 alone. Supporters of such measures also say children perform better academically in school when they exercise.

Recess and field trips that include physical activity would count toward the 30-minute requirement, as well as other exercise programs. Each school district would be responsible for implementing policies to ensure the physical activity requirement is met. House Bill 1069 would allow P.E. classes to count toward the requirement, but the 30 minutes of physical activity would not replace P.E.

Colorado is the only state in the country that does not require some form of physical education at any grade level, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The state would keep that distinction even if the measure passes because it only addresses the requirement of physical activity, not P.E.

“As a state, we are not trending in the right direction,” said Rep. Rhonda Fields, the bill’s co-sponsor.

The NCSL said states have put a bigger emphasis on bills requiring physical activity at schools over the last decade as obesity rates have continued to climb. In Colorado, the state Department of Public Health and Environment said that one in four children were obese or overweight in 2009.

Massey said teachers and parents will benefit from having children expend their energy.

“Obviously, you don’t want to have your elementary school kids come home after they’ve been caged all day, so you want them to have that release,” he said.

Knowledge Quest Academy student, Jaylene McDowell, 10, agrees.

“We won’t be as crazy. Because it wears us out,” McDowell said about having time exercise and play at school. McDowell and Guzman were on a tour of the state Captiol with their class.

The Colorado Association of School Boards was the only group that spoke against the measure before the committee voted on it. Michelle Murphy, an attorney who spoke on behalf of the group, said the school boards recognize the importance of physical activity for children and support the idea, but they are against the state forcing district to adopt policies regarding curriculum.

Massey believes most schools already allow 30 minutes or more of some type of physical activity. But he said his bill’s goal is to raise awareness and direct the few schools that don’t set time for physical activity to do so. Massey said most of the schools that don’t have time for physical activity are in rural areas that have been affected by budget cuts.

– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

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