Increasing school-time physical activity

To a significant degree, we have engineered physical activity out of our lives.  Many neighborhoods and communities have been designed for car use, rather than pedestrians or public transit.  Many cities and towns have consolidated school districts, resulting in the need for children to commute by car or bus to and from school. Budget pressures coupled with increased emphasis on standardized testing have resulted in significant cuts to in-school physical activity programs 1.

All in all, American children today experience far fewer daily opportunities for movement and activity. Less than half (42%) of children ages 6–11 years of age engage in the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Objective measures demonstrate that as children enter adolescence, physical activity declines precipitously 2.

As physical activity among youth has fallen and time spent in sedentary activities has risen, rates of childhood overweight and obesity have climbed. Overweight and obese children are at heightened risk for many negative health outcomes including cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes, hypertension, psychological challenges, and depression.  Furthermore, overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults.  Beyond the quality of life and disease implications of obesity, financial costs are also astonishing.  The annual medical burden of obesity is close to 10% of all medical spending and amounts to over $150 billion per year 3.

Physical activity is critical to maintaining energy balance and in turn is crucial to obesity prevention. A growing body of evidence also demonstrates that physical activity is positively associated with academic achievement 4. The school day represents a rich opportunity to increase children’s physical activity and instill lifelong healthy habits. Physical education and recess are the most familiar opportunities for in-school physical activity; however, quality school-time physical activity may also be achieved through alternative approaches such as classroom physical activity breaks, intramural and interscholastic sports, walk and bike to school initiatives, exergaming, and other applications of technology.

The Active Schools Acceleration Project is committed to increasing quality physical activity in schools as a means to promote healthy, active living and to evoke the beneficial behavioral and academic outcomes that follow.

1 Boyle-Holmes T, Grost L, Russell L, et al. Promoting elementary physical education: results of a school-based evaluation study. Health Educ Behav. Jun 2010;37(3):377-389.

2 Troiano, R.P., D. Berrigan, et al. (2008). “Physical activity in the United States measured by accelerometer.” Med Sci Sports Exerc  40(1):181-8.

3 Finkelstein, E.A., J.G. Trogdon, et al. (2009). “Annual medical spending attributable to obesity: payer-and service-specific estimates.” Health Aff (Millwood) 28(5): w822-31.

4 The association between school based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2010.