College/university Physical Activity Instruction Programs: A Critical Piece in the Education of Young Adults: A Position Paper from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education

Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators, July-August 2007 | Go to article overview

College/university Physical Activity Instruction Programs: A Critical Piece in the Education of Young Adults: A Position Paper from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education


It is the position of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) and the College and University Physical Education Council (CUPEC) that all colleges and universities uphold a physical activity instructional program for students as a strong and integral part of the academic curriculum. Bombarded by popular culture, newfound freedom, and peer pressure, the college-aged student is at high risk of making unhealthy choices.

The American College Health Association reports that on average, 35 percent of students on college campuses are overweight or obese (2006). In addition, an even larger percentage of college students (46%) are attempting to lose weight, suggesting false perceptions regarding personal weight and body image (Lowry, Galuska, Fulton, Wechsler, Kann, & Collins, 2000). Of the 46 percent who attempt weight loss, only one out of three report receiving any education from their college or university regarding physical activity and healthy dietary guidelines. Uninformed, we have found that college students choose unhealthy and non-recommended methods for weight loss. This is not surprising as we have learned that students as early as the middle school level formulate inaccurate and incomplete notions regarding physical activity and fitness (Kulinna & Zhu, 2001; Placek, Griffin, Dodds, Raymond, Tremino, & James, 2001).

In addition, college students' activity patterns mirror that of society's progressive decline in physical activity. We know the most rapid decline in physical activity happens during late adolescence and early adulthood. As ninth graders, 69 percent participate in recommended levels of vigorous activity on a regular basis.

By twelfth grade, the number of young people participating in vigorous activity drops to 55 percent (Grunbaum et al., 2004) and by college age, the number participating in regular, leisure time activity drops to 36.6 percent (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2006). To add to this profile of inactivity, it has been found that physical activity patterns practiced by college seniors remain static for up to six years post graduation (Sparling & Snow, 2002). Eighty-one percent of inactive college students report that their activity patterns are the same or even less once they leave their educational institution.

It is also interesting to note that barriers to keep one from participating in physical activity increase as grade level increases (Gyurcsik, Spink, Bray, Chad, & Kwan, 2006). First-year college students have reported both intrapersonal as well as environmental/contextual barriers relative to physical activity. In particular, college students have identified high workloads at school and at their job as a reason for inactivity. They have also reported community barriers such as lack of specific sports teams to join at their college or university and lack of transportation to facilities.

Succeeding the K-12 physical education experience, a college/university physical activity instructional program can promote added experiences of physical activity as well as challenge preconceived notions of fitness and health. By offering programs that encourage choice, college physical activity programs can provide a vehicle for students to continue to engage in new and different physical activity opportunities that will encourage healthy lifetime practices. By offering programs that teach empirically supported behavior change methods, college physical activity programs can provide opportunities for college students to acquire skills needed to succeed in self-directed activity. Behavior change methods can assist in overcoming the variety of barriers that are faced by the college-aged student.

An education in behavior change methods can build confidence in the college student's ability to be physically active when starting a career and family. Through careful curriculum planning, a college/university activity program can also target those groups in the greatest health risk such as the inactive student. …

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