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Study: Phys. Ed., Recess Mandates Boost School Physical-Activity Time

Schools are more likely to offer students 150 minutes of physical education per week if located in a state or district that mandates that level of P.E., according to a study published online today in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

The study's authors, based out of the University of Illinois at Chicago, worked off the National Association of Sport and Physical Education's recommendation that elementary students should be offered at least 150 minutes of phys. ed. each week. According to the study, less than 20 percent of 3rd graders were offered that level of phys. ed. in the 2007-08 school year.

The researchers collected data through surveys between the 2006-07 and 2008-09 school years, with a sample size of 1,761 public elementary schools in 47 states. Out of those 47 states, 39 did not have a daily-recess law, and 24 had no state law requiring physical education in schools.

From their data, they discovered that if a school was located in a state or district that mandated 150 minutes of physical education per week, that school was more than twice as likely to offer that level of P.E. Of the 1,761 schools in the study, 17.9 percent of them offered the recommended minimum of 150 minutes of physical education per week.

The researchers also found that when state laws suggest 20 minutes of recess for students on a daily basis, schools were nearly twice as likely to follow along; however, district policies weren't found to have any significant impact. Roughly 70 percent of the schools in the study offered students recess for at least 20 minutes per day.

That said, the authors did discover an inverse effect between the amount of physical education time and recess time offered per day in schools. More specifically: Schools that achieved the recommended 150 minutes of phys. ed. per week were less likely to offer 20 minutes a day of recess and vice versa.

"Schools and/or districts appear to compensate for any increased physical activity in one area by decreasing other physical-activity opportunities," the authors conclude.

In all, 32 states permit schools or districts to allow students to substitute other activities for the required physical education credit, according to NASPE's 2010 Shape of the Nation report.

"We found that mandates for both physical education and recess are needed to help elementary school students meet the national recommendations for physical activity," said lead researcher Sandy J. Slater in a statement.

The authors surmised that schools may be cutting physical-activity time to add instructional time, to the potential detriment of their students.

Given the positive correlation between students' fitness and academic success, the researchers believe that schools need more education about the cognitive benefits of physical activity for students.

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