MAJOR concerns have been raised by a Department of Health group about plans to allow secondary schools to reduce the amount of time allocated to PE.
A new report submitted to the National Activity Planning Group, which is responsible for trying to curb obesity, calls for PE to be made a compulsory subject at second-level schools, with pupils active for two hours a week as part of their basic curriculum.
The unpublished report warns that the new proposals for the junior-cycle curriculum would leave teenagers even more inactive.
Around one-in-five children in Ireland is overweight or obese. Statistics show that 80pc of those aged five to 17 do not meet the guideline of undertaking at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily.
The decision to give PE a "no subject status" under the revised framework was a "major step backwards", according to minutes of the Special Action Group on Obesity meeting obtained by the Irish Independent.
The group, which includes leading experts on obesity such as Prof Donal O' Shea of St Colmcille's Hospital in Dublin, is to write to Education Minister Ruairi Quinn about its concerns.
The report for the experts, prepared by the National Activity Planning Group, said if the proposals on PE for the junior cycle went through, "physical education will be eroded over time".
Currently, schools are recommended to devote two hours a week over the three years of the junior cycle. This amounts to 198 hours.
However, under the proposals this would be reduced to 100 hours as it would only have "short course status".
The report also pointed out that PE may be taught by teachers with no training and this would have implications for the "quality of meaningful content and the appropriate instruction offered to children".
It also lets schools ditch PE from their curriculum entirely and allow students to "learn how to become confident and competent participants in physical activity and motivated to be physically active through extra curricular activities".
The report says:
* Lack of physical activity is the fourth leading risk factor for premature death.
* Regular physical activity promotes wellness and prevents disease.
* Physical activity is important for a child's mental, social and emotional health.
The report calls for PE to be compulsory and to be taught by teachers who are trained, putting it on par with status given to literacy and numeracy.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said physical activity is one of the eight underlying principles that will inform the planning, development and the implementation of junior-cycle programmes in all schools.
In the vast majority of cases, schools will enable students to develop these skills through the provision of short courses available from 2014.
The aim of the new framework is to give more flexibility to schools in planning and designing a programme that meets their students' needs.