The Impact of State Laws and District Policies on Physical Education and Recess Practices in a Nationally Representative Sample of US Public Elementary Schools

Physical activity for school-age youth can take the form of physical education (PE) classes, recess, or unstructured activities before and after school. Leading public health authorities recommend elementary school children get 150 minutes per week of PE and 20 minutes per day of recess.

Looking at state laws and district wellness policies, and collecting data from school administrator surveys, researchers examined the impact of state and district-level policies on the prevalence of PE in elementary schools.

Key Findings:

  • Most states (83%) had no daily recess law and less than half had a law addressing 150 minutes/week of PE. Having strong district-level PE laws was associated with increased weekly PE minutes in schools. Overall, 70 percent of schools offered at least 20 minutes of daily recess and 18 percent offered 150 minutes per week of PE.
  • Schools that had either 20 minutes of daily recess or 150 minutes of weekly of PE were less likely to have the other, suggesting that schools are substituting one form of activity for another.
  • Predominantly White schools were more likely than all other race/ethnic groups to have daily recess. Schools with longer school days were more likely to meet physical activity requirements.

Researchers conclude that by mandating PE or recess, policy-makers can effectively increase school-based physical activity opportunities for youth.