P.E. classes fail to combat obesity, study shows

Published: Thursday, July 19 2012 11:24 a.m. MDT

Six states in the U.S. adhered to the recommended 150 minutes of physical education in elementary schools, a new study conducted by Bryan McCullick, a kinesiology professor at the University of Georgia, found. While two states followed the physical education guidelines, no states followed the guidelines at the high school level.

The study scrutinized the role of federal courts in interpreting physical education statues that have been left to different interpretations, the Huffington Post reported. "While public health reforms have emphasized school-based physical education as a means of combating the childhood obesity epidemic, the study's results found that courts typically do not interfere with state legislative decisions concerning curriculum."

Largely due to a lack of firm requirements, schools that are undergoing budget cuts or are placing a higher emphasis on academic performance and better test scores are cutting out physical education programs, or eliminating them entirely.

"Findings indicated that statutes were written in a manner that did not explicitly mandate school-based physical education but rather recommended or suggested it," McCullick wrote in the June issue of the Journal of Teaching in Physical Education.

Beyond the lack of federal involvement, the National Association of Sport and Physical Education has guidelines, CNN reports. Elementary school children should get 150 minutes per week of physical education and middle school and high school students need 225 minutes per week.

The main concern is that people cannot delineate between physical education and physical activity, says McCullick.

"You could put kids on a treadmill for 45 minutes a day and have them walk … they would get their recommended amount of exercise," he says. "That doesn't mean they're going to know how to be physically active after they're not mandated to do that anymore."

Physical education is not only a means of combating obesity, the New York Times reports. "Physical education has also been linked in some studies to good academic outcomes."

"There is a shrinking P.E. and recess time for our kids," Dr. John J. Ratey, Harvard professor and author of "Spark: The Revolutionary new Science of Exercise and the Brain," said, citing a 2010 study on the federal Health and Human Services Department. "P.E. teachers are fighting like cats and dogs to hold the line on their jobs and worth, at the same time as there is a dawning awareness that we have missed the boat."

Rachel Lowry is a reporter intern for the Deseret News.

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