Report: Most Schools Don’t Require P.E. or Recess

December 15, 2011

Last week, TIME reported that only six states meet national recommendations for school physical activity, while only three states require 20 minutes of daily recess.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago analyzed surveys sent to more than 1,700 schools and nearly 700 school districts regarding their physical education and recess policies. The results were compared to state laws and district policies. TIME reports:  

Those states and school districts that followed the guidelines were categorized as “strong;” those that recommended but didn't enforce the suggestions were classified as “weak.” Most schools fell into neither category because they have no regulations whatsoever, according the research, which was published Monday in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine

The article goes on to report that schools meeting the recess guidelines were less likely to meet the physical education standards and vice versa. Perhaps most important, the reporters and researchers touch on the reasons why schools are cutting physical activity and what that can mean for kids’ health and academic success: 

Perhaps it's not surprising that so few schools are embracing the exercise guidelines. There are only so many hours in the school day, and budget cuts and increased testing pressure means most schools decide that physical activity isn't critical.

But Sandy Slater, an assistant professor of health policy and administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says that's a mistake. Other studies have identified a link between increased physical activity and academic achievement. . . .

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Kristine Madsen of the University of California, San Francisco, provocatively suggests that “lack of physical activity may be a far greater public health problem than obesity.”

Our nation’s schools face the tremendous challenge of supporting student learning and boosting test scores on increasingly tight budgets. For many schools, this means cutting opportunities for physical activity in schools, despite its benefits for health and learning.

Research continues to demonstrate how healthy, active children are better prepared to learn and succeed. 

What can we do about this trend? 

At a local level, parents and community members can get involved at school by joining (or creating) a school wellness team and working with school leaders to bring back recess and P.E.

Here in Chicago, HSC’s Parents United for Healthy Schools/Padres Unidos para Escuelas Saludables coalition consistently advocated for recess at the school and district level, even gathering more than 4,000 postcard petitions in support of recess. Parents celebrated recently when the district announced that recess will return to all elementary schools in the upcoming school year. 

At the state level, we’ve seen parents like “Mesquite Mom” Corrie Meyer work with legislators to raise awareness of the need for recess in schools. 

Has your community taken steps to bring back recess and P.E.? We’d love to hear your story! 
To read the rest of the TIME article, click here.

Plus: Check out the exercise & school recess section of HSC's blog for more stories on the benefits of physical activity at school.