Survey: Too Little Physical Education in Schools Concerns Parents

A new survey released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Harvard School of Public Health, and National Public Radio finds that many parents are concerned about inadequate levels of physical education in American schools. In total, 1,368 parents of public school children in grades K–12 were polled on a range of issues around education [...]

A new survey released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Harvard School of Public Health, and National Public Radio finds that many parents are concerned about inadequate levels of physical education in American schools.

In total, 1,368 parents of public school children in grades K–12 were polled on a range of issues around education and health in their child’s school. One in four parents said their child’s school puts too little emphasis to physical education, compared with one in seven who said the same thing about reading and writing or math, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said in a statement.

About three in 10 parents give a low grade (C, D or F) to their child’s school on providing enough time for physical education, while almost seven in 10 parents (68%) report that their child’s school does not provide daily physical education classes, a recommendation included in CDC guidelines for schools. Just under two in 10 parents give a low grade to their child’s school on providing quality facilities for physical exercise, like playgrounds, ball fields, or basketball courts.

“In a period with a significant public debate about the content of educational reform, it is significant that many parents feel that more physical education is needed in the schools,” said Robert Blendon, ScD, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Health Policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends at least 60 minutes of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Currently, less than half of youths meet this recommendation and can increase youths’ health risks and can jeopardize their well-being throughout their lives. Physical activity is also critical to children’s cognitive development and academic success.

“Experts recommend that high school and middle school students get 225 minutes of physical education per week during the school year, but in fact many don’t get that much,” said Dwayne Proctor, PhD, who directs the childhood obesity team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). “Parents should let their state boards of education and their local school districts know that they want more PE for their kids, and encourage state and local policy-makers to provide the necessary resources for full implementation.”

Earlier this year, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report, Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School. The report concluded that schools can and should play a major role in both encouraging and providing opportunities for children and teens to be more active.

The most recent survey underscores the need for many of the actions recommended by the IOM report, including: school districts should provide high-quality physical education, equal to 150 minutes per week for elementary school students and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students; students should engage in additional vigorous or moderately intense physical activity throughout the school day through recess, dedicated classroom activities, and other opportunities; and additional opportunities for physical activity before and after school hours should be accessible to all students.

In addition, the survey found that a substantial number of parents in the United States do not believe the nation’s schools are sufficiently preparing students for future careers. Almost a third of parents responded that they do not believe their children’s schools are sufficiently teaching professional conduct and a work ethic, and 29% do think the schools are helping them to choose areas of study that will lead to a good job.

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