Research Communications

Small Steps 

Hyun-Ju Oh works to improve fitness levels of Appalachian kids

October 18, 2011

When Hyun-Ju Oh moved to Ohio, she was surprised to learn that the state ranked high nationally for childhood obesity. Oh, an assistant professor of recreation and sport pedagogy, wondered how K-12 physical education classes could address the problem.

Based on her experience documenting the nutrition status and physical activity of Mexican and Mexican-American youth in Utah, Oh launched a study of 152 kids in Appalachian Ohio to determine whether they were meeting national standards for fitness. The subjects, who had an average age of 14, wore a pedometer for 7 days to track their activity. The study differed from previous research, which either relied on self-reported data or only examined adults in the region, she says.

Fitness Kid
Illustration credit: Christina Ullman

Most of the kids didn’t meet the currently recommended physical activity amounts (a minimum of 60 minutes per day), although the boys in the study were more active than the girls. Oh suggests that poverty and the region’s rural geography—which makes it difficult for kids to walk or find access to public parks—are some of the key culprits.

Oh now is recruiting up to 200 Ohio kids to keep track of their activity on a daily log that features images of various forms of recreation or rest. Completed through the physical education class, the intervention is intended to inform students about basic ways they could increase their level of fitness during their everyday routine.

Hyun-Ju Oh
Hyun-Ju Oh.

“We’re trying to do something very simple that can be done right away,” says Oh, whose research has been funded by the Ohio University Research Committee. “It’s not that expensive or time-consuming.”

Oh’s own college students, the next generation of K-12 physical education teachers, already use the tool in her classes. In addition, the researcher is exploring the feasibility of offering the schools software that could analyze student activity data and demonstrate their progress in becoming fitter kids.

Oh is committed to finding ways to stem the rising levels of obesity at a time when more school districts are eliminating physical education classes for budget reasons.

“I’d like to provide evidence to policy makers that P.E. class should be brought back,” she says.

By Andrea Gibson

This article will appear in the Autumn/Winter 2011 issue of Perspectives magazine, which covers the research, scholarship, and creative activity of Ohio University faculty, staff, and students.

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