Physical Education Q&A with Dwayne Proctor, PhD

    • December 2, 2013
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Dwayne Proctor, PhD

A new NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/ Harvard School of Public Health Poll finds that many parents are concerned about inadequate levels of physical education in their child's school. To learn more about the state of physical education in American schools, RWJF spoke with Dwayne Proctor, PhD, director for the Childhood Obesity program management team.

One in four parents say their child’s school gives too little emphasis to physical education. Are they right to be concerned?

Yes. National recommendations say that students in middle and high school should get 45 minutes of physical education each school day, and kids in elementary school should have 30 minutes. But schools generally fall far short. This is especially true for older kids, who may only have PE for a single semester during the school year.

Almost seven in 10 parents say their child’s school does not provide daily PE. Why should kids get PE every day?

Because it helps kids be active. A recent study showed that a daily PE requirement could help young people be active for 23 minutes per day, more than a third of the recommended daily amount of physical activity.

What do parents need to know about the state of PE in schools?

Because of tight budgets and competing priorities, many schools are cutting back on PE programs. PE needs to be a priority in our nation’s schools. Quality PE increases students’ levels of physical activity, improves fitness, and helps them learn skills that promote lifelong physical activity.

What impact can physical activity have on how kids do in school?

Schools are facing more and more time constraints during the day, and some people are concerned that scheduling physical activity could hurt kids academically. But that might not be the case. For example, many schools are starting to take short physical activity breaks during academic class time, when students stand up from their desks and get active for 10 or 15 minutes. Research shows that these sorts of breaks can help kids stay on task afterwards. So not only are kids getting the benefits from being active, they’re also better able to focus on the lesson after the physical activity break.

What else is needed to help kids be active before, during, and after school?

Schools play a critical role in helping children lead active, healthy lives, but so do neighborhoods and community programs. Safe streets, sidewalks, and bike lanes allow kids and families to walk and bike to schools and other places in their community. Well-maintained parks and playgrounds provide places for kids to play outside of school. After-school programs can offer supervised sports activities. We need all of these things in order to ensure young people are able to be as active as they should be.  

How can parents help ensure that their kids are getting enough physical activity during and outside of school?  

Outside of school, parents can help their kids get moving at playgrounds, during after-school sports, and even on the sidewalk while walking or biking in their neighborhood. But kids spend so much time at school that their role is crucial. Parents should let their state boards of education and their local school districts know that they want more PE for their kids, and encourage state and local policymakers to provide the necessary resources for full implementation.

Physical Activity at School

Schools play a critical role in helping children lead active, healthy lives. By requiring active participation in daily physical education classes, providing activity breaks throughout the day, and supporting walking and bicycling to school, schools can increase students’ physical activity.

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