PE doesn’t slim students

More time in phys ed classes doesn’t make students slimmer or fitter, a new study finds. A third of high school students took daily PE classes in 2005, down from 42 percent in 1991. Some states are boosting PE requirements to fight the obesity epidemic: About a third of young Americans are overweight or at risk of crossing the line. But PE doesn’t seem to get kids moving, much less reducing.

(Researchers) found that when states required an extra year of PE for high school students, which is roughly 200 more minutes a week of physical education:

• Male students said they spent another 7.6 minutes a week exercising or playing sports in gym class.

• Female students spent an extra eight minutes and six seconds a week doing exercise in PE.

The study found that girls who exercise more in school cut back their physical activity outside of school, especially the girls who are least active to start with.

Boosting PE time has no effect on teens’ weight, apparently because some schools don’t comply with the PE rules and some PE teachers don’t keep students moving during class. I wonder if schools are dumping “health” (sex ed, drugs, etc.) requirements on PE teachers to free classroom teachers’ time.

Elementary PE classes are even less physical:

. . . research on elementary school students in a county in Texas showed that the children did moderate to vigorous activity for 3.4 minutes of a 40-minute class. About two-thirds of class time was spent in sedentary activity; one-quarter of the time was spent doing minimal activity.

Education Next will have a story on the study in the fall issue, which will be out soon.

About Joanne


  1. The last time I subbed a Phys Ed class about half of the girls had nurse’s excuses for personal issues, and the boys couldn’t participate due to lack of clothing.
    This same school issued students textbooks for Phys Ed.
    They should do the same study but select programs that are strict concerning Phys Ed guidelines.

  2. Foobarista says:

    When I was in junior high school in the late 1970s, PE meant a half-mile run, followed by a half hour of basketball, flag football, or dodgeball, with another half-mile run at the end. For some reason, it fell apart in high school, devolving into a stand-around session.

    I never quite understood why it fell apart…

  3. Foobarista: See the comment above yours!

  4. I’m confused. If male students report another 7.6 minutes a week exercising, what are they doing during the vast majority of PE class?

  5. I’m not sure the issue is with “PE” per se. (I don’t think in my — i.e., the prior — generation, we relied on PE classes in school to provide our physical activity. I dare say “PE” classes haven’t changed all that much — *in the physical exertion required* — from prior generations.)

    However, my children’s school recently sent home a lunch program menu touting that their meals were “no more than 16 grams of fat”. (And, believe me, that is 15.9 grams of saturated fat.)

    Furthermore, our children can no longer play outside in unorganized activities (either because we’re more afraid of, or more aware of, the creep down the street; or because our kids are in daycare or hiding behind their doors as latch-key kids). I don’t think any amount of “organized” sports can provide the level of physical exertion my generation experienced from ‘running around the neighborhood’ and ‘pick-up games’.

    Also, my children’s school has, this year, adopted a “Trouble Free Playground” program, which means that they have to have four-man soccer and two-man duck-duck goose games. It is supposed to relieve play yard bullying, and lack-of-global-participation-thus-ensuring-more-physical-activity-by-each-student.

    I’ve had issues with my son dealing with school-yard bullying, so I see the point. I also have daughters who proclaim this the lamest thing since the macaroni-with-hair-in-it-lunch.

    Just wonder what all these kids are going to do when they are presented with a world in which the “playground bullies” haven’t been nullified.

    Unfortunately, the schools long ago took away the means for the majority of non-bullying kids to deal with bullies — so, in short, nobody learns a lesson toward their betterment.

    But the Hot Pocket, Pepperoni Pizza, Chicken Bits, Fish Nuggets roll on, and we wonder why our children are fat, apathetic, and cynical.

    We stuff their gullets with crap, we prevent them from being kids, we tell them they’ll relieve their energy on our terms– when we determine it fits our schedule– and we pump ’em full of drugs to make life more convenient for us.

    And you think Social Security, Medicaid and your Pension hasn’t been flushed down the toilet? These kids WILL vote, and they will rightly kick us all in the arse for what we’ve done to them.

  6. greeneyeshade says:

    Well, things were a lot different in high school 40 years ago, but better?
    Even before I started high school I was waiting to discover Robert M. Hutchins’ famous line (“Whenever I feel the urge to exercise, I lie down until it passes over”) and P.E., run by the football coach, did nothing at all to counteract the tendency. I wonder that I kept my taste for long walks.