A new study published in the Journal Of Health Economics shows that kids who spend more time in gym class during their academic careers are less likely to become obese later on.
The study included data collected by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the American Academic of Pediatrics. Both groups have long been arguing for a longer gym class in schools as well as providing students with more opportunity to be active throughout the day. Both the CDC and AAP believe that children under the age of 15 should get at least one hour of physical exercise every day.
Organizations including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have been advocating for longer gym class periods for some time, recommending that children under the age of 17 should spend at least one hour per day in some kind of physical activity.
More physical education is a sound policy in combating the growing obesity epidemic in the U.S., the study suggests. In 2010, 32.6 percent of American youths aged 6-11 were overweight, and 18 percent were obese. States that are serious about reducing children's obesity risk should increase the mandatory amount of time students spend in PE, write the researchers, and enforce existing standards better.
John Cawley of Cornell University, David Frisvold of Emory University and Chad Meyer Hoefer of Lehigh University analyzed data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Kindergarten Cohort to draw their conclusions on how time spent on physical activity related to overall health. Although they weren't able to conduct a randomized study, they settled on observing how different physical education regimes from school to school and from state to state reflected on the physical fitness of the students.
Although unwilling to pin down the ideal amount of time that each student should dedicate to physical activity per week, the researchers found that an extra 60 minutes a week would be enough to put schools in compliance with the recommendations released by the CDC and the AAP.
The researchers wrote that this difference might stem from the fact that PE for boys in this sample complemented other extracurricular activities like organized sports, while PE tended to replace such physical activities outside of school for girls.
Significantly, the analysis found no evidence that more time in gym class harmed academic performance.
Other recent studies have found that longer gym class periods for young children can actually improve academic achievement, along with increasing muscle strength.