Feature Article - June 2008
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School Days

In a presentation before the 2008 National Convention of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD), Cass Wheeler, CEO of the American Heart Association, revealed a statistic showing that enrollment of high school students in physical education had dropped from 41.6 percent in 1991 to just 28.4 percent in 2003.

She said that to ensure quality physical education is taught in the schools, each state should set strong physical education standards and hire a state-level PE coordinator so that all kids from kindergarten through graduation can get quality physical education while in school. She outlined some successes in states like Florida and Mississippi, which mandated 150 minutes per week of PE for K-5; in Illinois, which limited physical education waivers; in Mississippi and North Dakota, which require PE credits for graduation; and in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee, which created physical education coordinator positions.

Legislation has been proposed to amend the No Child Left Behind Act to help get kids more active and educate them on healthy food choices.

The National Association of State Boards of Education recommends 150 minutes per week of physical education for elementary students and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students. But according to the AAP, in a study of third-graders from 10 different sites, the mean duration of PE was just 33 minutes twice a week, with just 25 minutes per week at a moderate to vigorous intensity level.

This is despite the fact that a study from the American College of Sports Medicine, which examined activity and physical education as compared to academic achievement, showed that the kids involved in the most vigorous activity often had better grades.

"Physical education and activity during the school day may reduce boredom and help keep kids attention in the classroom," said Dawn Podulka Coe, Ph.D., the study's lead author. "We were expecting to find that students enrolled in PE would have better grades because of the opportunity to be active during the school day. But enrollment in PE alone did not influence grades. The students who performed better academically in this study were the most active, meaning those who participated in a sport or other vigorous activity at least three times a week."

Most of this vigorous activity took place outside of the classroom in youth sports. But since academic performance was favorably influenced by the activity, the researchers suggested incorporating vigorous activity into PE classes.

Cuts to recess are also detrimental to students' performance. According to the Rescuing Recess campaign, only eight state school boards of education have policies in place to protect recess in elementary schools. Separate from PE, which provides a more structured direction of activity, recess allows time for free play, which has been shown by multiple studies to provide emotional, cognitive, social and physical benefits to kids. National Recess Week, which takes place in September, helps raise awareness of these issues, and has received industry awards and honors from a variety of organizations.