Study: Physical Education at College Level Is in Bad Shape Health Professionals Say That with Obesity Rates Climbing, Young People Need Benefits of Exercise Now More Than Ever

By Kelly, Jack | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), February 25, 2013 | Go to article overview

Study: Physical Education at College Level Is in Bad Shape Health Professionals Say That with Obesity Rates Climbing, Young People Need Benefits of Exercise Now More Than Ever


Kelly, Jack, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Fewer colleges and universities than ever have a physical education requirement, according to a study conducted principally by Brad Cardinal, a professor of exercise and sport science at Oregon State University.

In 1920, 97 percent of college students were required to take physical education, the study found. Today, only 39 percent are. This is both ironic and alarming, Mr. Cardinal said, because young people need exercise more now than ever, and much more is known now about the mental as well as the physical benefits of exercise.

"We see more and more evidence about the benefit of physical activity, yet educational institutions are not embracing their own research," he said. "It is alarming to see four-year institutions following the path that K-12 schools have already gone down, eliminating exercise as part of the curriculum even as obesity rates climb."

In K-12 schools in the United States, the median budget for phys ed is just $764, the Oregon State University study found. That alarms Carnegie Mellon University athletic director Susan Bassett.

"There should be a requirement in elementary schools for physical education every single day," she said. "If a girl hasn't participated [in athletic activity] by the age of 7, chances are she will have a lifetime of inactivity."

Schools should provide at least 150 minutes of physical education each week for children in elementary school and at least 225 minutes of phys ed each week for middle and high school students, according to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. But only 30 percent of high school students and less than 20 percent of elementary students get the number of minutes the association recommends.

Elementary schools that provide more PE classes tend to cut recess time, according to a 2011 study by researchers at the University of Illinois.

Two-thirds of high school students are not getting enough exercise, the "Shape of the Nation" study found. But only a third of high school students have a gym class daily. Nearly half the high school students surveyed last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they had no physical education classes in a typical week. Only six states require physical education in every grade.

"With the obesity rates going up, it's not a good thing to be cutting back on phys ed requirements," said Sam Akhavan, a sports medicine physician at Allegheny General Hospital.

A third of adolescents and teens are overweight. Half that number are obese. Child obesity rates have doubled since 1980.

"Most kids under age 18 spend the majority of their day sitting in classrooms and a big part of their free time outside of school watching television, playing sedentary video games or surfing the Internet," the national phys ed association reported. "A required physical education period assures that, at a minimum, they'll get at least a portion of the recommended physical activity in a day."

Local school districts contacted by the Post-Gazette require more physical education than the national average but less than the national group recommends.

Forty-three states set physical education standards for elementary students, 44 (two fewer than in 2010) set standards for high school students, the association found. But in most of those states, local districts aren't required to meet them.

Pennsylvania mandates physical education every year for students in grades K-6. For middle school students, planned instruction is mandated but not every year. …

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