Association Between State Physical Education (PE) Requirements and PE Participation, Physical Activity, and Body Mass Index Change

Strong state laws regarding physical education (PE) in school may increase PE attendance and overall physical activity, particularly among girls.



The Issue:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommend that children participate in a minimum amount of PE per week, yet state laws fall short of these recommendations. The authors of this study examined whether stronger state laws were associated with higher PE attendance and higher overall levels of physical activity. They also explored whether state laws on PE and on school snacks and drinks had a combined impact on student body mass index (BMI).

Key Findings

  • In states with strong PE laws, 74.1 percent of girls reported regular attendance at least 3 days per week, compared with 52.1 percent of girls in states with no laws.

  • Strong state PE laws also were associated with more days of physical activity per week among girls: 4.4 days of activity compared with 4.09 among girls in states with no PE laws.

  • There was some evidence that girls in states with weak PE laws and some type of law on school snacks and drinks had lower increases in BMI over time than did girls in states with no laws on either PE or snacks.


Evidence does suggest that strong state laws with specific time requirements for PE can have an impact on PE attendance and overall physical activity among girls. However, the findings do not provide evidence that strong laws can impact student weight gain. Future study is needed to examine whether they could. This study utilized student self-reported data of PE class attendance and weekly PA; future studies should obtain more objective measures.

About the Study:

Data on 5,510 students from 40 states were obtained from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. Student data on PE attendance and PA were collected for 8th grade students and BMI change was calculated from 5th grade to 8th grade. State laws regarding PE were classified as strong, weak, or none depending on their requirements.