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Feature Story

January 2013


Daily P.E. Would Boost Youth Activity

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Pediatricians Make Recommendations for Schools - January 2013

Requiring daily physical education in school could help young people be active for 23 minutes per day, which is more than a third of the total amount of daily physical activity experts recommend for young people. The new estimates were published in a study released in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through its national program Active Living Research, is the first to estimate the amount of physical activity, in minutes, that several distinct policy changes could actually support.

"This study shows that policy-makers have a lot of tools at their disposal to help kids be active," said David R. Bassett, professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and lead author of the study. "But it also shows that no change alone will be enough. Helping young people reach activity goals will require a combination of strategies."

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which were issued by the federal government in 2008, recommend that children and adolescents be active for at least 60 minutes a day. But a study published the same year found that only 42 percent of children ages 6 to 11 met that standard, and fewer than 8 percent of adolescents did.

The new study also confirms that schools play a major role in helping kids meet the federal recommendation—combining a daily P.E. requirement with short activity breaks during class time and active commuting to and from school could add up to 58 minutes of daily activity for youths.

Bassett and his colleagues analyzed 85 past studies to estimate how many minutes of daily physical activity youth could accumulate if various policy changes were implemented. They assessed nine general types of policy change in both the school and community setting, and modeled the increase in minutes of physical activity for each. The results:

  • Requiring daily P.E. (23 minutes)
  • Providing classroom physical activity breaks (19 minutes)
  • Increasing walking or bicycling to school (16 minutes)
  • Renovating parks to include more equipment and opportunities for activity (12 minutes)
  • Increasing after-school physical activity programs (10 minutes)
  • Standardizing P.E. curricula to increase active time and decrease inactive time (6 minutes more than traditional P.E.)
  • Modifying school playgrounds (6 minutes)
  • Modifying recess to provide more play equipment that encourages physical activity (5 minutes more than traditional recess)
  • Increasing park access (1 minute)