Physical Education In US Public Schools


The risk of declining activity levels among US youth is a significant public health concern.  Multiple studies indicate a protective effect of regular, moderate to vigorous exercise on the development of medical conditions in children including type 2 diabetes mellitus, obesity, and mental health disorders. Low activity levels in youth often persist to adulthood.

Quality physical education increases physical activity and can help mitigate health risks in the youth population while promoting early social and motor development.  Thus, inconsistent and inadequate quality of physical education in public schools remains a critical public health problem.

In April of this year HR 1585, the Fit Kids Act, passed the House and is in the Senate.  This act is a great start as it requires local educational agencies in states receiving school improvement funds to provide the families with information annually on healthful eating habits, physical education, and physical activity.  To further endorse physical education in public schools, I urge everyone to support HR 4557, the Healthier Nation Act introduced early this year and currently in the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education.  This bill amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to require states and local educational agencies that receive school improvement funds to provide: (1) 150 minutes of physical education per week for elementary school students; (2) 225 minutes of physical education per week for middle and secondary school students; and (3) disabled students with such physical education as is determined appropriate under their individualized education programs.

For more information on physical education and childhood obesity:

12 Responses to “Physical Education In US Public Schools”

  1. healthpolicyjunkie Says:

    I agree that PE in school is critical to maintaining a healthy population of kids. I would support the Healthier Nation Act wholeheartedly because it will mandate PE in school and will ensure that our nations kids get the opportunity to exercise.

    I’m not as enthusiastic about the Fit Kids Act. Is the increase in obesity due to more to inadequate education or environmental factors? Could a more effective policy be aimed at decreasing access to high fat/high sugar foods and drinks? Or perhaps increasing costs of unhealthy foods relative to healthier foods? I know they would be more difficult policies to implement, but I’m not convinced that more education will put a dent in the current obesity trend.

  2. rfleury Says:

    Effective enforcement of school physical health policies and programs is the way to move forward. However, parent teacher associations are to pressure public school to enforce the PE minimum standards.
    The “working parent associations” who send their children to childcare after school have to pressure the government to mandate “active time” minimum standards for certified child care institutions in the same way that they enforce hygiene and safety standards.
    Ultimately, Parents must advocate for funding for safe walking and bike paths and public recreational areas.

  3. pveligati Says:

    I agree that dealing with childhood obesity is extremely important for us right now in the US. We should realize that good nutrition is necessary along with increased physical activity in reducing the current obesity epidemic. As early as in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson remarked that “Good nutrition is essential to good learning” and helped pass the laws on current WIC programs. Most children in the US eat at least one meal in school. A large number of children come from of single parents or two working parent families. These families have tremendous time and financial constraints on preparing nutritious meals.

    Policy changes should include that each school district be responsible for the physical wellness of their children and not just their academic progress. All schools districts should be mandated to develop a “School nutrition association” and the association should be responsible for the following a) incorporate nutrition education in their curriculum b) make sure nutrition information is available on all foods served in school cafeterias and sold on school campuses. All school meals should at a minimum, meet regulations and guidance issued by the Secretary of Agriculture c) growing school gardens like our current first lady is promoting. Links with local farmers association for supply of fresh fruit and vegetables d) a plan for monitoring progress, for example, measuring BMI’s of all school children at the beginning and end of school year.

  4. kwl4 Says:

    In my opinion, one of the major problems with “physical education” as practiced in American schools is the migration of activity from “gym class” to competitive sports, beginning at early ages. That’s great for students who happen to be good athletes, but discourages other less athletically gifted or physically uncoordinated students from participating in organized physical activity programs. I’m fortunate enough to have had a (modest) talent for endurance running in middle and high school, or I probably wouldn’t have exercised at all. Kids just don’t understand that it isn’t necessary to be the next Michael Phelps or LeBron James to participate in sports.

  5. henrytracey Says:

    I agree the lack of or declining emphasis in physical education in our public schools is a significant public health issue. There are a lack of PE teachers as children progress in school and in many places gym class is no longer a requirement and is often replaced with a less physically active class. I believe legislation should be put in place to ensue each student participates in some form of physical activity each day not just ONCE A WEEK as the minimal requirement in some school systems. Even if they are in a wheelchair or on crutches, the student should participate as much as possible even if that means just throwing a ball. A trained PE teacher should not only engage the students in physical activity but also teach them about sports, sportsmanship and healthy eating and lifestyles. In the US, over 60% of the population is overweight and/or obese and only by reinstating and heightening the awareness of the importance of physical activity in schools again, can we begin to decrease that dramatic statistic.

  6. rlb300 Says:

    Mandating schools to provide minimal hours of physical education does not go far enough. Funds must be provided for programs that work. The number of physical education hours in schools is not the same thing as the number of active hours for kids. So much of the allotted time is wasted on team activities where the kids spend most of the time waiting their turn to participate. There are some wonderful programs out there designed to keep kids active now and in the future. PE4Life is an innovative program that is very promising. You can check it out at

  7. janiepak Says:

    Although the Fit Kids Act pushes schools to integrate physical education (PE) into the curriculum through required reporting and increased funding, I agree that U.S. school systems need the Healthier Nation Act to enforce explicit time requirements dedicated to physical activity in school [1]. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 17% of children ages 2-19 were obese in 2007-2008 [2]. With several studies indicating that obese children are more likely to become obese adults, it can be argued that childhood obesity has a lifelong health implications [2]. The good news is that it is highly preventable. In 1976-1980, the prevalence of obesity in ages 2-19 was less than 7% but has been steadily increasing since then [3].

    I, however, also agree with healthpolicyjunkie’s comment regarding the need for additional policy to address the steady supply of unhealthy foods in schools. It’s a well known fact that there are two primary determinants of a person’s body mass index (BMI): physical activity and diet. Vending machines often line the halls of schools while Arby’s and McDonald sandwiches are sold during lunch time. If adults cannot control themselves, how can we expect children to? Some may argue that children deserve the freedom to choose and I do agree… to a certain extent that is. But if we left it up to children and their parent to make choices regarding their health, then why have minimum age drinking laws? Bike helmet laws?

    I think the concerning upward trends of childhood obesity are sc
    reaming at us that whatever we are doing now is not working and change is in order. Passing the Healthier Nation Act is definitely a plus, but I feel this legislation needs to be coupled with further regulations addressing the unhealthy foods being offered to the children through schools. Such regulations can eliminating soda machines and fast food meals, offering greater variety of healthy meals and replacing foods in vending machines with healthier choices (e.g., fruits).


  8. aht931 Says:

    I believe that mandating a minimum requirement for physical education in schools is one piece of the many that will be needed to begin to see change in the prevalence of childhood obesity in America.

    Currently, there seems to be more strength and momentum to replace high calorie/low nutrition foods in American schools than there is to foster more active lifestyles through our educational systems. Changing the food environment in schools is essential, but I am discouraged by the emphasis on this aspect at the expense of policy towards increased active lifestyles. Some of the comments on this blog post are evidence of the fact that some people continue to emphasize food changes in schools while overlooking the importance of physical activity.

    Physical activity contributes to wellness in ways that a healthful diet alone cannot. Physical activity increases bone density (especially important for females before puberty ends), strengthens the heart (a muscle!), increases lung capacity and strength of respiratory muscles, enhances joint lubrication, and promotes more extensive capillaries for circulation, to name a few.

    Better nutrition in schools must be paired with interventions to increase active lifestyles as well. The Fit Kids Act is a step in the right direction, and may be enhanced by creative initiatives such as PE4Life mentioned above. Physical education curriculum as it exists can certainly benefit from more creative ways to include students of all fitness levels and inclination towards sports.

  9. patrickann Says:

    As good an idea as increasing physical activity in school sounds, I think the evidence is somewhat lacking that it can make a significant difference in the long run. Your posting cites the meta-analysis that found that 30-45 minutes of vigorous exercise 3 to 5 times a week has some beneficial effects, but it concluded that it would require even more time in the home setting to have an equal effect. Without a real change in lifestyle by the entire family, it’s hard for me to see causing a sustained change in levels of obesity. I think the nutritional side of things is even more important, and kids are just assaulted by poor nutrition. And this is much more true of the socioeconomically disadvantaged. When it costs only $3.99 to get a Jumbo Jack meal, that includes an enormous, fat-filled hamburger, a big carton of greasy french fries, and a large sugar-filled drink, how can we expect poor families to make a good nutritional choice? The culture of video games and television makes it that much harder to get kids to get up and be as active as they should be. I ‘m not very optimistic, I’m afraid….

  10. klewis26 Says:

    Physicial activities should be part of a child’s normal routine. Physical Education (PE), along with many fine arts programs, have been erased from the agendas/books in many schools across the country. I agree that PE is an important component that should be kept in the school setting. Children can learn the art of team building, enhance leadership skills, develop a drive/focus for something that they enjoy, and also learn the importance of respecting authority (from the coach) in just one session of PE. At least, I know I did when I was growing up! While learning these lifelong skills, the children are also getting a functional exercise regimen that is tailored to them. Some children (due to certain inherent cirmcumstances) may never get a chance to run outside in their own neighborhood because it is an unsafe environment. Some children whose parents (single or co-parented) work multiple jobs may not have time to supervise their child outside because they are too tired from the work they perform dillegently to provide for their child. Having PE courses at schools could be a way to introduce children to a sport that they would not have been able to try or afford outside of a sponsored school setting. After many of the PE programs became extinct in schools, there was a direct influx of childhood disease and obsity like never before. Indeed, I agree that there should be some type of PE class offered in every school.

  11. woorimoon Says:

    I agree with the importance of physical education particularly in US public school. The contents of new acts seems reasonable to address this problem. However, just increasing the physical education time does not guarantee the quality improvements and better health for children. First of all, as time for physical education increase, the contents needs to be improved as well. More diverse options and other supports such as equipments and supplies should be provided at the same time. In addition, in order to improve the quality of education, better training and motivation for educators is also critical factor. Beside the physical education strengthening, another important aspects of childhood obesity is nutrition. For example, in South Korea, although the absolute time for physical education is lower than US, childhood obesity rate is much lower in South Korea than US. This may result of better nutrition( traditional korean food has less fat but more vegetable) Well-balanced healthy diet should be implemented at the same time.

  12. shaymes Says:

    The problem is far greater than physical education at school. Physical activity should be part of daily life. We need to educate children AND parents on this. Time to switch off our electronics, get up, get together, get outside and get active as part of the usual routine. The benefits are far more widespread than helping to reduce obesity.

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