Increasing Student Physical Activity during the School Day: Opportunities for the Physical Educator

By Brewer, Joan D.; Luebbers, Paul E. et al. | Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators, January-February 2009 | Go to article overview

Increasing Student Physical Activity during the School Day: Opportunities for the Physical Educator


Brewer, Joan D., Luebbers, Paul E., Shane, Shawna D., Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators


America is facing an obesity epidemic--one that is difficult to ignore. Current obesity statistics for the United States are startling. Unfortunately, these numbers continue to rise, with the most dramatic increases seen in our youth. Recent data indicate the prevalence of obesity in children aged 6-11 doubled over the past two decades, increasing from 7% in 1980 to over 18% in 2004 (Center for Disease Control (CDC), 2006). Research has shown that youths who are overweight and obese are more likely to be overweight or obese as adults compared to those who maintain a healthy weight (Harper, 2006; Jacobs, 2005). Being overweight or obese can put an individual at greater risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain cancers and high blood pressure, as well as other health problems (CDC, 2006). Society must become proactive in order to reverse the current overweight and obesity trends in the United States and reduce the risk of today's children suffering from premature chronic disease and disability. As such, the purpose of this article is to describe these current youth physical activity trends and offer strategies for physical educators to raise the level of student participation in physical activity and help lower our nation's obesity epidemic.

There have been several factors identified as possible contributors to the obesity epidemic among children. Among others, they include: genetics, low socio-economic status, unsafe neighborhoods, larger portion sizes, increased caloric consumption, excessive television viewing, increased interaction with video games, and a decline in physical activity (Harper, 2006; Jacobs, 2005).

While addressing these factors requires a multifaceted approach, the one aspect that physical educators have the potential to directly influence is physical activity. Globally, physical inactivity is one of the leading underlying causes of death--60-85% of the world's population does not participate in enough physical activity to promote good health. This can account for more than two million deaths each year worldwide (WHO, 2002). It is estimated that 10-16% of diabetes, colon cancers and breast cancers, as well as 22% of ischemic heart disease, can be attributed to physical inactivity (WHO, 2006b).

To help combat the obesity epidemic, schools in the United States (and throughout the world) have been called upon to somehow play a role in reversing the current trends. In some cases, state mandates are requiring schools to become accountable for issues related to improving nutrition and increasing students' physical activity during the school day. This is an opportune time for physical educators across the country to take the initiative in planning programs and activities within their individual schools and districts to increase the physical activity levels of students. It is imperative that physical educators take it upon themselves to be seen as the leaders of these efforts. Doing so will not only assist in advocating for the improved health and wellness of students but may also aid in supporting the need for quality physical education programs.

Physical Activity Trends

Youth participation in regular physical activity continues to decline. More than half of 5-17 year-olds do not get enough physical activity during the day to promote optimal growth and development (Mckeown, 2006). Opportunities for physical activity are disappearing, while technologies encouraging sedentary behavior are increasing. The average youth watches approximately 23 hours of television each week (Mckeown, 2006). Research demonstrates children will not compensate for a sedentary school day by increasing their physical activity levels once they get home (Dale, Corbin & Dale, 2000). To the contrary, children are actually more likely to be active following an active day at school versus a more sedentary day at school (Dale, Corbin & Dale, 2000).

How Much Activity is Enough? …

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