Withholding Recess From Elementary School Students

Two girls hanging off a playset in a school yard during recess.

The Issue:

Ensuring children receive adequate physical activity is a key aspect of addressing childhood obesity. For many children, elementary school environments provide essential space for physical activity, especially recess time. Understanding why recess may be withheld from elementary school students will inform policies around physical activity and recess, and help ensure that healthy play environments are accessible to all children.

Key Findings

  • Nearly 63 percent of school districts had no policy regarding withholding physical activity or using physical activity as punishment.

  • At 28.3 percent of schools, withholding students from recess due to poor behavior was not allowed. Similarly, 26.7 percent of schools reported that withholding recess for completion of schoolwork was not allowed.

  • Strong school district policy was associated with increased odds of not withholding students from recess for poor behavior or completing schoolwork.


This study shows that school district policies may help improve school practices of withholding recess and allow all students to be physically active during the day.

About the Study:

This study examined both school and district-level information, using a nationally representative, cross-sectional survey data from Bridging the Gap. Mail-back surveys were conducted during the 2008-2009, 2009-2010, and 2010-2011 school years. A total of 1,919 surveys were received. Data on corresponding school district polices was gathered and coded.