Princeton, N.J.—Requiring daily physical education in school could help young people be active for 23 minutes per day, which is more than a third of the total amount of daily physical activity experts recommend for young people. The new estimates were published in a study released today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The study, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through its national program Active Living Research, is the first to estimate the amount of physical activity, in minutes, that several distinct policy changes could actually support.
“This study shows that policy-makers have a lot of tools at their disposal to help kids be active,” said David R. Bassett, professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and lead author of the study. “But it also shows that no change alone will be enough. Helping young people reach activity goals will require a combination of strategies.”
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which were issued by the federal government in 2008, recommend that children and adolescents be active for at least 60 minutes per day. But a study published the same year found that only 42 percent of children ages 6 to 11 met that standard and fewer than 8 percent of adolescents did.
The new study also confirms that schools play a major role in helping kids meet the federal recommendation—combining a daily physical education (P.E.) requirement with short activity breaks during class time and active commuting to and from school could add up to 58 minutes of daily physical activity for youths.
Bassett and his colleagues analyzed 85 past studies to estimate how many minutes of daily physical activity youth could accumulate if various policy changes were implemented. They assessed nine general types of policy change in both the school and community setting and modeled the increase in minutes of physical activity for each. Their results:
Standardizing P.E. curricula to increase active time and decrease inactive time: 6 minutes more than traditional P.E.
Modifying school playgrounds: 6 minutes
Modifying recess to provide more play equipment that encourages physical activity: 5 minutes more than traditional recess
Increasing park access: 1 minute
To conduct the study, Bassett and his colleagues analyzed past research that used objective assessments of physical activity, measured through accelerometers, pedometers, heart rate monitors, or direct observation. They converted the results from each study into a standard measurement of energy expenditure, which they then used to estimate the minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity resulting from each policy change.
About Active Living Research
Active Living Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, stimulates and supports research to identify environmental factors and policies that influence physical activity for children and families to inform effective childhood obesity prevention strategies, particularly in low-income and racial and ethnic communities at highest risk. Active Living Research wants solid research to be part of the public debate about active living. www.activelivingresearch.org
About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, measurable, and timely change. In 2007, the Foundation committed $500 million toward its goal of reversing the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015. This is the largest commitment any foundation has made to the issue. For 40 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. Follow the Foundation on Twitter (www.rwjf.org/twitter) or Facebook (www.rwjf.org/facebook).