Physical Activity for School Age Children
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From 1980-2008, the prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 years increased from 6.5% to 19.6% and from 5.0% to 18.1% among youth aged 12 to 19 years, making obesity among young people a major public health concern in the United States (U.S.).
The 2008 report of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee describes physical inactivity as a contributing factor to premature death, high blood pressure, diabetes, colon cancer, and heart disease. The report also describes the benefits of exercise which include building strong bones and muscles, reducing the risk of obesity and chronic diseases related to obesity, and promoting psychological wellbeing.
Also relevant to the discussion is an understanding of the difference between physical education and physical activity. Physical education programs offer an opportunity to provide physical activity to children in school and the instruction needed to establish and sustain an active lifestyle. Physical activity is bodily movement of any type, inside or away from school, and may include recreational activities, sports, and daily activities.
ChangeLab Solutions has released a suite of resources, including the Safe Routes to School District Policy Workbook, to help jurisdictions plan and create safe routes to schools.
Policy and Guidelines
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
HHS published 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans as a science-based guide for policy makers and health professionals to describe the types and amounts of physical activity that are required for substantial health benefits. The document addresses all ages, but see chapter three for, “Active Children and Adolescents.”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- CDC published “Recommended Community Strategies and Measurements to Prevent Obesity in the United States” in the July 24, 2009 MMWR Recommendations and Reports. The article lists 24 strategies for preventing obesity; two relate to school physical activity and eight to community-based physical activity.
- The CDC publishes the “Guide to Community Preventive Services” that includes the Community Guide Topic: Promoting Physical Activity.
- The CDC Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity maintains a website encouraging aerobic activity, muscle strengthening, and bone strengthening.
- National Association of Sport and Physical Education (NASPE)
NASPE is a national, non-governmental organization whose mission is “to enhance knowledge, improve professional practice, and increase support for high quality physical education, sport, and physical activity programs.” NASPE provides national leadership for initiatives in school-based physical education and identifies national standards.
- American Heart Association (AHA)
The AHA advocates for legislative improvements that can improve the quantity and quality of physical education in schools. The AHA position statement [PDF-23KB] requires daily physical education in grades kindergarten through 12 to combat obesity which AHA describes as a significant contributing factor to rising healthcare costs and threatens the United States competitive advantage as a nation. AHA recommends a minimum physical education standard [PDF-259KB] for elementary students of 150 minutes per week and 225 minutes per week for middle school students.
- National Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
The PTA [PDF - 85KB] recognizes the work of the Surgeon General, CDC, and NASPE and passed a resolution recommending 30 minutes of physical education, led by accredited professional instructors, every school day, for every elementary and secondary school student.
Federal Legislation and Regulations
- Authorization Note - Federal Legislation
Federal law does not prescribe minimum standards for physical education in schools; instead, the federal government relies on grant programs administered by the Departments of Education and Transportation to create incentives that promote physical activity in the school setting as well as walking and biking between school and home. Federal legislation does prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in the educational setting including physical education and sports. Without federal requirements, state and local jurisdictions have passed a variety of laws and policy that define minimum standards for time requirements and the quality of physical education and recess. State and local quantitative policies vary ranging from no time requirement to an established minimum number of minutes students must participate in physical activity each week. Qualitative standards also vary among jurisdictions, from the absence of physical education standards to a standards-based requirement that students participate in moderate to vigorous physical activity.
- U.S Department of Education (ED)
- The U.S. ED administers the Carol M. White Physical Education Program, which provides grants to local education agencies and community organizations. The purpose of the program is to provide funding to initiate, expand, or enhance physical activity programs that help students make progress toward meeting their established state standards.
- The U.S. ED also administers title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (as amended by Pub. L. 93-568, 88 Stat. 1855), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity that receives federal financial assistance. The statute extends to activities that are during school and school related, such as sporting events. Under the statute, states are not preempted from creating stricter standards. See the link in the state legislative section for state Title IX laws (Women’s Sports Foundation).
- U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration (DOT-FHWA)
The DOT-FHWA administers the Safe Accountable Flexible Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), which includes the Safe Routes to School Program. In the late 1960s, approximately 50% of children walked or bicycled to school, but today that number is less than 15%. Safe Routes to School has become a national and international grass roots movement to create safe and convenient opportunities for children to bicycle and walk to and from schools to encourage physical activity. Learn more on the FHWA Safe Routes to School website and the National Center for Safe Routes to School website.
State and Local Legislation and Regulations
- Nutrition and Physical Activity Legislative Database
The CDC Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity maintains a database of state-level bills related to nutrition and physical activity considered between 2001 and 2008. Bill information was gathered from several sources, including state legislative web pages, the National Council of State Legislatures, Health Policy Tracking Service, Council of State Governments, and reviews of media coverage.
- National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE)
- NASBE maintains a comprehensive summary of state physical education legislation, with links to each state’s statute or physical education policy. The “Physical Education” database identifies 1) state physical education requirements (mandates), 2) exemptions, 3) curriculum content, and 4) physical fitness assessments. Each criterion is annotated for each state making this a comprehensive database for school physical education requirements.
- In addition to its comprehensive physical education database, NASBE maintains a comprehensive summary of state legislation on school policies and state laws related to physical activity other than physical education. The website provides links to state legislation and policy related to 1) recess or physical activity breaks, 2) recess before lunch, and 3) walking or biking to school.
- Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF)
In 2003, the WSF published a compendium of state and territorial (i.e., Guam) statutes related to Title IX. The 17 entries listed include the citation and statutory language for each state’s relevant statute. The compendium also includes the statutes of the four states that specifically legislated on the topic of “Fee Waivers” and “Funding” as it relates to equal opportunity in sports regardless of sex.
In August 2007, the Arkansas Department of Education promulgated rules governing physical activity standards [PDF-60KB] and using the “body mass index” to assess overweight and obesity. The Arkansas standards require 90 minutes of physical activity each week in grades K-6, but have no physical activity requirement for grades beyond that level.
Statute 1003.455 (2007) [PDF-96KB] mandates 150 minutes of physical education each week for students in grades K-5 and SB 608 (2008) expands the requirement to grades 6-8 beginning in the 2009-10 school year. The statute also requires one credit of physical education in high school as a graduation requirement.
First passed in July 2004, and updated in July 2009, the Louisiana legislature enacted a statute that requires students in grades K-8 to engage in at least 30 minutes of physical activity each school day. The unique aspect of this statute is that it requires the physical activity to be “quality moderate to vigorous physical activity for students.”
Mississippi enacted Senate Bill Number 2369 (2007) [PDF-9KB] to require 150 minutes per week of “activity-based” physical education and 45 minutes per week of health education instruction for K-8. For grades 9-12 the statute requires ½ Carnegie unit in physical education for graduation.
- South Carolina
The South Carolina legislature passed legislation requiring elementary school students to receive 30 minutes of physical activity each day and 150 minutes each week beginning in the 2006-2007 school year. A unique aspect of this statute is that it requires the student to teacher ratio for any individual class to be less than 28 to 1. It also required a certified physical education teacher for every 500 students by the 2008-2009 school year.
Disclaimer: Information available on this website that was not developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not necessarily represent any CDC policy, position, or endorsement of that information or of its sources. The information contained on this website is not legal advice; if you have questions about a specific law or its application you should consult your legal counsel.
- Page last reviewed: August 19, 2016
- Page last updated: August 19, 2016
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