Few states follow the national recommendations for weekly time in physical education at the elementary and middle school levels, and no state follows the recommended rate of physical education participation at the high school level, according to the 2016 update to the Shape of the Nation report.

The report, which is sponsored by Voices for Healthy Kids – a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and SHAPE, the Society of Health and Physical Educators – was formulated from responses of physical education coordinators in the 50 state education agencies and the District of Columbia to a questionnaire on kindergarten through 12th grade physical education and physical activity requirements. The education coordinators were queried during the winter of 2015-2016.

At the elementary school level, five states – Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Oregon – and the District of Columbia require students to participate in physical education for 150 minutes per week, the nationally recommended rate. For middle schoolers, the nationally recommended rate of participation in physical education is 225 minutes per week, which is followed in even fewer parts of the country; Montana, Oregon, and the District of Columbia are its sole adopters. California and Hawaii are the only two states who come close to satisfying the national recommendation of providing high school students with 225 minutes per week of physical education. In California, students in grades 7-12 receive 400 minutes of physical education per 10 school days and, in Hawaii, ninth graders receive 200 minutes of physical education per week.

While most states do not require their schools to follow the nationally recommended hours of weekly physical education for schools, the majority of states require students to participate in some amount of physical education during elementary school, middle school, and high school. State physical education requirements are undermined, though, by the majority of states offering ways for students to get out of participating in a physical education course, the report said. Specifically, more than 31 states allow students to substitute participating – in activities such as Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, interscholastic sports, marching band, and cheerleading – with earning their required physical education credit. In addition, 15 states allow schools or school districts to apply for a waiver from the state physical education requirements, with “medical purposes” having been the most common reason for granting such an exemption.

“There is a large disparity in state requirements and implementation, affecting children’s ability to engage in and benefit from these [physical education] programs,” the report said. “Physical education improves student wellness and academic outcomes, develops life skills that shape the whole person, encourages smart choices, and cultivates a healthful lifestyle.”

The full report is available for download at www.shapeamerica.org/shapeofthenation .

klennon@frontlinemedcom.com

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