Physical Education Policy Compliance and Children's Physical Fitness

State policies on physical education in schools may improve student fitness, but only with efforts to ensure compliance, according to this study. These authors examine the association between the fitness of 5th-graders and their schools’ compliance with California mandates.

Physical activity is key to improving children’s fitness and combating obesity. Policy-makers sometimes mandate minimum levels of physical education in schools, but few studies have looked at the relationship between school compliance with these mandates and student fitness levels. This study examines this association, using data on the fitness of California 5th-graders, school district-level compliance with California’s mandated 200 minutes of physical education every 10 days, and socioeconomic characteristics. Compliance data for 2004–2006 was available for 55 of California’s 1,102 school districts, representing 91,236 5th-graders who attend 1,028 different schools.

Key Findings:

  • Nearly 61 percent of students in districts that met California’s physical education mandate met or exceeded a performance goal for a timed one-mile run/walk; just over 57 percent of students in noncompliant districts met the goal.
  • Students in policy-compliant districts were 29 percent more likely to be fit than students in noncompliant districts.
  • The “vast majority” of students (82%) attended schools noncompliant with the physical education mandate. Students in noncompliant districts were more likely to be Hispanic or Black.
  • There was no significant relationship between their school district’s compliance and the physical fitness levels of boys, Asians or Blacks.

The authors note they did not assess the quality of a district’s physical education, nor the availability of other physical activity options. But citing the association they demonstrated between student fitness and school district compliance with physical education mandates, they call for effective compliance measures and open access to compliance data for researchers.