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Physical Education and Physical Activity in Schools

PRIORITY POLICY

Physical Education and Physical Activity in Schools

Helping all children get 60 minutes of physical activity every day

Experts recommend at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity for children. Physical activity provides important benefits for children, such as reducing the risk of obesity, building strong bones and muscles, and improving academic performance. Research has found a benefit of more than $32 for every $1 invested in school-based physical activity and physical education (PE) programs, such as reduced healthcare costs and increased labor participation.

Despite these findings, there are no federal requirements for school-based PE or physical activity and few states require a minimum weekly amount of time spent in PE or physical activity. The most recent federal survey found that only about 24 percent of youth ages 6 to 17 meet the guideline recommended by experts for 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

COVID-19 Context

Months of school closures have prevented many students from engaging in the regular activity they would get during recess and physical education class. Many communities also closed public parks or limited facility use in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But being active may help reduce one’s risk for COVID-19 or reduce the strength of symptoms if one does become sick.

With schools in many states at least beginning the 2020-21 school year in remote learning, school-based opportunities for physical activity will be limited in the near term. However, schools will likely try to include movement breaks during any virtual lessons, and even short physical activity breaks can have benefits.

Young children do yoga in PE class

Recommendations

The federal government should provide guidance and funding to ensure that schools can continue to help students be active, even while learning remotely.

As states and school districts consider their school reopening plans, they should try to incorporate opportunities for physical activity for students in ways that are safe and healthy given local conditions.

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Featured Studies and Resources

Research

School Closures May Increase Childhood Obesity

A July 2020 study predicts 1.2 million new cases of childhood obesity nationwide if schools remain closed through 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The author predict predicts larger increases among Black and Hispanic children, who already have disproportionately high rates of obesity.

Read the Study
Statement

Strategies for Recess in Schools

In 2017, the CDC and SHAPE America recommended at least 20 minutes of recess daily for elementary students, and a period of daily physical activity for middle and high school students in addition to PE and in-class physical activity.

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Spotlight

Carol M. White Physical Education Program

From 2001 to 2015, the Carol M. White Physical Education Program provided approximately $989 million in grants to local school districts and community-based organizations to start, expand, or enhance PE programs for K-12 students. In its final year, $47 million in grants helped over 197,000 students across the country exercise more.

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Fast Facts

29.9%

Only 29.9% of high school students attend physical education classes on all five days of the school week.

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$764

The median PE budget is $764 per school, per school year.

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4.8%

An extra 60 minutes per week in gym class reduced fifth-graders’ likelihood of obesity by 4.8%.

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Data to Share

Increasing the amount of time in PE up to the recommended amount of 150 minutes per week would lower BMI z-scores by 12% on average, and would reduce the probability of obesity by four percentage points.
In states with strong PE laws, 74% of girls reported regular PE attendance at least 3 days per week, compared with 52% of girls in states with no such laws.