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  • Fewer Than a Third of HS Students Receive Recommended Amount of Phys Ed

    When it comes to the number of US high school students participating in physical education in school, the good news is that rates haven't declined much since 1995. The bad news is, rates haven't gone up, either—and remain well below national recommendations.

    Recently, the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance (NPAPA) released an analysis of 22 years' worth of data on US high-schooler participation in physical education classes. They found that after a notable drop between 1991 and 1995, rates have remained fairly consistent, with only 29.4% of students meeting national recommendations for daily classes. Former APTA Board of Directors member Dianne V. Jewell, PT, DPT, PhD, represents APTA on the NPAPA. APTA is an organizational partner of the NPAPA.

    Using data obtained from the CDC's National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, researchers found that the rate for daily participation was the highest in 1991, with 41.6% of students attending physical education classes 5 days a week. By 1995, that rate had dropped to 25.4%, and remained fairly consistent for each study period thereafter.

    Among other findings in the report:

    • Overall, the average number of days per week of physical education attendance reported in 2013 was 4.15—lower than the 4.64 average reported in 1991, but better than 1995, when that average dipped to 3.6.
    • The percentage of students reporting 0 days of physical education each week in 2013 was close to 1991 levels, at 52%.
    • The percentage of students who reported participating in phys ed only 1 day per week increased between 1991 and 2013, from .9% to 1.8%.
    • Participation in phys ed for 1 day a week or more declined as students advanced through high school, with 64.3% of freshmen reporting any physical education, followed by sophomores (50.5%), juniors (39.6%) and seniors (35.2%). The same general pattern held when it came to reports of daily phys ed classes (from 42.2% of freshmen to 20.2% of seniors).
    • Across the entire study period, more boys than girls—57% versus 49%—reported attending physical education classes.

    The study's authors speculate that the drop in participation between 1991 and 1995 may be linked to the widespread adoption of block scheduling in high schools during that time, a scheduling system less likely to offer daily classes in any subject.

    Regardless of the reasons, they write, the fact is that the rates of participation weren't high enough even in 1991 and remain problematic today. Authors call for schools to prioritize the "adoption of policies and programs aimed at increasing participation in physical education," writing that the NPAPA has developed "evidence-based strategies and tactics" that could help to make a difference.

    APTA has long supported the promotion of physical activity and the value of physical fitness. In addition to representation on the NPAPA and other organizations, the association offers several resources on obesity, including a prevention and wellness webpage that links to podcasts on the harmful effects of inactivity.

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.

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