Physical Activity in Schools, Part 6


Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News looked at the positive effects of recess for grade school children. Even brisk exercise may or may not directly influence their weight. But it does seem to have side effects that help them become the kind of kids who are not susceptible to getting hooked on hyperpalatable foods. And if they’re not addicted to junk food, they will probably not have to battle obesity.

Federally, as set down in its Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has formulated some recommendations for children and adolescents. Mainly, they should engage in at least an hour of physical activity every day. Moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity is important, and attention needs to be paid to bone and muscle strengthening too.

The National Association of Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) has set standards that describe the desirable attributes of the physically educated (or physically literate) person. According to its evaluation, the physically educated child fulfills these criteria:

1. Demonstrates competency in motor skills and movement patterns needed to perform a variety of physical activities.
2. Demonstrates understanding of movement concepts, principles, strategies, and tactics as they apply to the learning and performance of physical activities.
3. Participates regularly in physical activity.
4. Achieves and maintains a health-enhancing level of physical fitness.
5. Exhibits responsible personal and social behavior that respects self and others in physical activity settings.
6. Values physical activity for health, enjoyment, challenge, self-expression, and/or social interaction.

NASPE issues guidelines on how to meet those standards, but they are voluntary guidelines. Unfortunately, when studies are undertaken, there is always a time lag between reality and the date when the information is published in useful form. On the other hand, in massive problems such as the childhood obesity epidemic, conditions don’t change very quickly. In 2006, for instance, NASPE reported that the following percentages of schools required daily physical education: Elementary schools 8%, middle schools 6%, and high schools 5%.

Here is another random snapshot (PDF) of our dismal decade:

Only 10 to 13 percent of high school students and 21 to 24 percent of middle school students participated in intramural sports and physical activity clubs in 2008.

In 2009, it was announced that only 18% of high school students were getting an hour of exercise per day, and only one-third of them went to schools that had daily PE class. Currently, only six states in the union recommend a minimum amount of PE in elementary schools. Even the best state, in this regard, is pitiful. New Jersey requires the most PE from its students, but the time alloted still falls short of what HHS or NASPE would like to see.

Schools in general have skimpy budgets and a lot of academic subjects to worry about. PE programs are easy to cut, maybe partly because kids are unlikely to complain about the omission of a course they don’t enjoy anyway. At the University of Georgia, a kinesiology professor named Bryan McCullick researched the role of federal courts when they are asked to interpret unclear statues about PE in schools:

While public health reforms have emphasized school-based physical education as a means of combatting the childhood obesity epidemic, the study’s results found that courts typically do not interfere with state legislative decisions concerning curriculum.

In the publication F as in Fat, the section called “State Responsibilities and Policies” offers information that perhaps not everyone knows, about the general topic of public schools:

The more than 14,000 school districts in the country have primary jurisdiction for setting local school policies. States can set education policy or pass legislation, but school districts typically can decide what policies they follow or implement, a principle known as local control.

Imagine the difficulty of trying to herd 14,000 separate jurisdictions onto the same page of the hymnal!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Moving into the Future: National Standards for Physical Education, 2nd Edition (2004),”, 2004
Source: “Food and Fitness Facts,”
Source: “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future” (PDF),, July 2011
Source: “Physical Education Programs In School Not Enough To Combat Obesity In Most States: Study,” The Huffington Post, 07/19/12
Image by pawpaw67, used under its Creative Commons license.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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