School Physical Activity Environment Related to Student Obesity and Activity

A National Study of Schools and Students

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation invests in research aimed at reducing childhood obesity. This report, part of a supplement presenting obesity research, examined physical activities offered in schools and weight status in a nationally representative sample of U.S. students.

The primary concern of this report was whether the school physical activity environment influenced weight status among students for the period 2004-2007. The authors used data from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) and Youth, Education, and Society (YES) studies. MTF obtained student gender, race/ethnicity, and body mass index (BMI) data. YES, a follow-up to MTF, surveyed administrators regarding physical education (PE) requirements and participation. This report employed bivariate and multivariate analyses and accounted for several variables, including school type and the percentage of students eligible for reduced-cost lunches.

Key Findings:

  • Schools required a dramatically lower percentage of 12th grade students (20%) to take PE compared with 8th grade students (88%).
  • The percentage of students who participated in all types of organized sports was associated with lower levels of obesity.

The Institute of Medicine recommends that children expend 50 percent of their daily energy while in school. This study investigated associations between physical education requirements, physical activity, and body weight among U.S. students.