Irish Senator Eamonn Coughlan (FG) has said that Physical Education (PE) - traditionally the 'sport' element of Ireland's high school curriculum - should be upgraded to an examinable subject.

The call follows the upgrading of other traditionally less emphasized high school programmes, such as Religious Education, to the ranks of those subjects which can be taken in the Leaving Certificate, the finishing exam in the Irish high school system.

Currently, 'PE' is taught in an ad-hoc and highly unstructured manner, with typical 'sessions' consisting of indoor soccer, circuit exercises, or any other of a number of aerobic exercises.

Coughlan, however, said that PE's upgrade to an examinable subject would see it vested with a much greater degree of traditional classroom-based content than has currently been the case.

"This is about kids doing homework, an essay on cardio-vascular, on the heart and lungs, it's almost like biology," the Senator, himself a former athlete, told the Irish Examiner.

"If a child or a student wants to go to college to study PE or sports management, physical education does not count, when physical education should be one of the most important subjects."

A recently produced factsheet from the NCCA, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment - the body responsible for formulating and updating Ireland's high-school curriculum - said that the programme was 'likely to be introduced as a Leaving Certificate subject in the near future,' a possible move which has been hinted at for years.

Detailed guidelines instruct teachers in what should be covered during the two or three year 'senior cycle' high-school phase, but the possibility of introducing it as an exam subject - something which would undoubtedly upgrade its importance within the school system - has been left largely undiscused.

A separate curriculum exists for primary school students, and emphasizes physical activities, movement, and games.

Proponents of a new examinable subject would undoubtedly see it as an enormous boost towards solving the spiraling rates of overweightness and obesity in Ireland.

Though the weight problem is more pronounced among Irish children, Dr Donald O'Shea of St Columcille's Hospital said that the country could be moving towards a US-style statistic of 33% child obesity unless the current rising trend is stemmed.

Levels of childhood obesity currently range at about 20% and are showing no signs of relenting their upwards climb.

A separate healthy eating and sports nutrition component to the course would also be an added boost to governmental efforts to promote nutritionally-sound lifestyle choices, an effort which has already spawned the setup of a number of healthy menus in high schools across the country.

'Food Dudes', an initiative of the Department of Agriculture, Food, and Marine, is such website hoping to inspire Irish high-schoolers to adopt better eating habits.