Mandates boost school-based physical activity opportunities

June 1, 2012

Investigators examined the effect of state and school-district policies on the prevalence of 2 separate physical activity opportunities - physical education and recess - in a nationally representative sample of US public schools.

Investigators examined the effect of state and school-district policies on the prevalence of 2 separate physical activity opportunities-physical education (PE) and recess-in a nationally representative sample of US public schools. The study sample included 47 states, 690 school districts, and 1,761 schools. Data for the 2006-2007 through the 2008-2009 school years were collected using mail-back school surveys sent to school principals.

About 70% of respondent schools offered at least 20 minutes of daily recess, as recommended by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), and almost 18% offered 150 minutes a week of PE, also recommended by NASPE.

Schools located in a state or school district with a law or policy requiring 150 minutes a week of PE were far more likely to meet the NASPE recommendation for PE than schools located in a state or district without such a law or policy. Similarly, schools in states with policies encouraging daily recess were more likely to have 20 minutes of recess daily; district policies were not associated with school-level recess practices, however. In noting that schools that met the NASPE recommendation for recess were significantly less likely to meet the NASPE PE criterion, investigators suggest that schools are substituting 1 form of physical activity for another rather than providing the recommended amount of both recess and PE.

COMMENTARY

This issue may be ripe for legislative advocacy in your state capital. Students attending school in states requiring 150 minutes of physical education each week were nearly 3 times as likely to meet that goal as those living in states with no such mandate. However, these states are rare; only 6 of 47 states reviewed had state requirements in place. Armed with growing evidence that physical fitness is linked to academic success, pediatricians may be able to convince legislators that physical education and recess are good for both body and mind. -Michael Burke, MD