PE is back - and now it's high-tech

Dance pad video machines, electronic ball walls, and heart monitors are some of the tools of the new school gym.

With childhood obesity plaguing school-age children, one wouldn't think installing video game technology would be high on the health agenda for public schools. But an article in the Kansas City Star reports that one school in Kansas City is doing just that—and kids are getting jumping at the chance to play.

According to the 2006 Shape of the Nation Report by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the American Heart Association, more than 9 million U.S. children ages 6 to 19 are overweight.

After years of cutting back physical education budgets, some schools are incorporating innovative ideas to promote physical education and healthy lifestyles. PE4life, a nonprofit advocate group, helped pay for dance pad video machines which resemble stationary bikes hooked to video games. Students at Woodland Elementary in Kansas City can also swim with heart monitors, and throw balls against brightly colored panels that sound off and light up when hit.

"I dance, I climb the wall, then I go out and work on the machines," said Brian, a Woodland student. "I keep busy, and I sweat a lot."

There are other benefits to having physical education back in the curriculum. Students are more focused in the classroom. Discipline referrals dropped 59 percent since the equipment was installed. Principal Craig Rupert thinks that better physical education strengthens academic performance.

"This isn't your grandfather's or even your father's P.E.," said Brenda VanLengen, vice president of operations for Kansas City-based PE4life. "The days of those traditional sports like kickball and basketball - where basically the jocks are enjoying the game but everyone else just stands around - are gone."