Recess at New Jersey schools is not mandatory, but a pair of lawmakers is looking to change that in an effort to combat childhood obesity.

Playground swing set
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The legislation sponsored by Assembly members Erik Peterson (R-Clinton) and Joe Lagana (D-Paramus) would require schools to provide children from kindergarten through fifth grade with at least 20 minutes of recess every school day.

The measure would also require that the recess period be held outdoors when possible, and that recess couldn't be used to meet the current legal requirements regarding the provision of physical education courses in public schools. The 20 minutes of recess would be in addition to existing gym classes.

Peterson has four grade school-aged kids and he said he was surprised when they told him they weren’t getting enough recess time.

The lawmakers said recess is not just about giving kids exercise.

Peterson said time on the playground provides children with lessons about playing together and resolving disputes.

“In addition to giving children time to recharge during the school day, recess allows students to develop their social skills and get some physical activity,” Lagana said.

Peterson thinks recess at school could even result in more outside activity at home.

“Children would not only get that exercise during recess at school, after school they could get much more than that and then we’ll see that obesity problem going away,” he predicted.

The Assembly Education Committee is scheduled to consider the legislation on Monday. An identical bill was sponsored in the Upper House by Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Trenton). The legislation was unanimously approved by the full Senate on June 29, 2015.

Recent released statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that 17.5 percent of American children between the ages 6 to 11 were considered obese, and there was no difference in the percentage between girls and boys in that age range

“With more and more young people at risk for illnesses due to inactivity, it’s critical for recess to be a part of their routine starting at an early age,” Lagana said.

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