History and Legislation

Physical Education, Physical Activity & Recess Legislation

            Minimum levels of physical activity and exercise have long been advocated by health and fitness professionals and in recent years have become universally accepted, if not practiced, by the general populace. However, the often indolent approach to physical activity in a society where it has never been more important, has seen an epidemic long associated with adults, explode among children and adolescents.

There are an estimated 31.7% of American children considered overweight or obese. The over $100 billion spent on junk food per year is an impressive figure, but pales in comparison to the $150 billion spent annually by national health care on obesity related items.  According to the National Conference of State Legislatures 2010 Overview of Childhood Obesity Legislation and Policy Options (http://www.ncsl.org/), U.S. medical expenses attributable to obesity were an estimated $147 billion for 2006. Taxpayers provided approximately half of that amount via Medicare and Medicaid.

There have been some efforts to combat the problem. First Lady Michelle Obama promulgated the “Let’s Move” http://www.letsmove.gov/ program in 2010 to promote access to healthy and affordable food choices and a more physically active lifestyle for children. While there needs to be far more done on the legislative level, there are states that have taken measures to provide healthier food options and increased opportunities for safe and fun physical activity.

Unfortunately, with the understandable importance placed on meeting the academic standards of the “No Child Left Behind Act,” http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/index.html schools have been reticent to adopt measures for the improvement of student health. Schools that do not meet the act’s standards face severe punitive measures including the withdrawal of school funds and the possible closing of the schools altogether.

A Closer Look at Physical Education, Physical Activity & Recess in Schools

Every state, with the exception of Colorado, requires physical education in some form. Policies regarding physical activity and recess are works in progress, with each state navigating the issue according to its respective political climate.

Please see the Recess Across the United States section for a brief breakdown of what each state is doing to combat childhood obesity and other adverse affects of physical inactivity as documented by the National Association of State Boards of Education (http://nasbe.org/) and the National Conference of State Legislatures (http://www.ncsl.org/).


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