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Feature Story

April 2016


Are States Dropping the Ball on Keeping Kids Active?

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Students across the nation would benefit from strong state requirements for physical education. However, "2016 Shape of the Nation," released by SHAPE America (Society of Health and Physical Educators) and Voices for Healthy Kids, an initiative of the American Heart Association and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shows most states are dropping the ball on keeping kids active and fit, and preparing them for a healthy future.

First compiled nearly 30 years ago, the latest status of physical education in this country was released recently in Minneapolis at the SHAPE America National Convention & Expo.

"The benefits of physical education ring clear as a school bell," said Nancy Brown, American Heart Association CEO. "With effective physical education, we can keep kids' hearts healthy and their minds in gear to do their best at school every day."

The report highlights that only a handful of states set any minimum amount of time for elementary (19) and middle school (15) students to participate in physical education, The report compiles data on the status of physical education requirements from every state and Washington, D.C., and provides a snapshot of how each state is meeting—or not meeting—the criteria of a high-quality physical education state policy. While only Oregon and the District of Columbia require the amount of time recommended by national experts at both elementary and middle school levels, this does not always equate to effective implementation in every school. More than half (62 percent) of states permit school districts or schools to allow students to substitute other activities for their required physical education credit, undermining the requirements above.

Unfortunately, many states also allow physical activity to be withheld or used as a punishment. The vast majority of states only meet about half of the criteria and a few, including Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Nevada, Texas and Utah, need to pick up the pace on their state policies.

Each state profile in the report is a guidepost for states as they consider how to close the achievement gap and improve the health of students. The good news for states is that the recent passage of the federal education law, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), includes physical education as part of a well-rounded education, meaning that school districts can use Title I, Title II and Title IV federal funding to improve their physical education programs. States must not address the whole child through their state education plans by offering students access to a well-rounded education, which should include robust physical education programs.

"Students will benefit now that physical education is a subject included within the definition of a well-rounded education," said SHAPE America CEO Paul Roetert. "Physical education teachers are uniquely qualified to ensure that all of America's students develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to enjoy healthy, meaningful physical activity for a lifetime. Using the results of '2016 Shape of the Nation' as an advocacy tool and the new ESSA funding opportunities for physical education, these educators are now poised to go directly to state decision-makers to improve physical education policies and programs for all children."

National guidelines recommend moderate to intense physical activity for children at least one hour a day. To help meet these, the American Heart Association and SHAPE America recommend states require elementary students receive 150 minutes per week, and middle and high school students receive 225 minutes per week of instructional physical education.

While the guidelines are built on the need to develop lifelong healthy habits, there are a number of other benefits to being active for children. First, studies show that when kids participate in daily physical education, there is an immediate benefit to their ability to learn in other classes and achieve higher test scores. Not only does physical education increase academic achievement and improve classroom behavior, but the skills learned in physical education lay the foundation for a lifetime of fitness that our nation cannot afford to lose.

To learn more, visit www.shapeamerica.org/shapeofthenation.


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