Today nearly one-third of U.S. children and teens are overweight or obese—and physical inactivity is a leading contributor to the epidemic. Many experts stress the important role of schools in providing opportunities for regular activity among children and teens. Unfortunately, most children get little to no regular physical activity while in school.
The surgeon general recommends children should engage in 60 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week, yet in schools across the United States, physical education has been substantially reduced—or even completely eliminated—in response to budget concerns and pressures to improve academic test scores. In fact, current estimates show that only 3.8 percent of elementary schools provide daily physical education.
Advocates for school-based physical activity programs argue that allocating time for daily physical education does not adversely impact academic performance, and that regular exercise may improve students' concentration and cognitive functioning. As policy-makers at all levels of government work to incorporate more physical activity into the school day, it is critical they have the latest evidence showing the many benefits associated with physical education and physical activity programs in schools.
This brief from Active Living Research summarizes the best available evidence about the relationship between physical activity and academic performance among children and teens.
Active Living Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, stimulates and supports research to identify environmental factors and policies that influence physical activity for children and families to inform effective childhood obesity prevention strategies, particularly in low-income and racial/ethnic communities at highest risk.