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Institute of Medicine Suggests 60 Minutes of Daily Activity in Schools

Schools should provide students with the opportunity to participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day, with the majority of that time coming during regular school hours, the Institute of Medicine recommends in a new report released today.

"School policies encouraging an environment that promotes physical activity and decreases sedentary time are promising obesity-prevention strategies," the institute suggests.

For the 300-plus-page report, which was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the IOM's committee on physical activity and physical education in the school environment examined the current state of school-based physical activity to see what role schools can play in helping address childhood obesity.

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans say that all children and adolescents should engage in at least one hour of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), but only roughly half of youths meet that level at the moment, according to the IOM, the health division of the National Academy of Sciences. A study published earlier this year in JAMA Pediatrics found that youths' daily MVPA tends to decrease with age, a finding which the IOM echoes in this new report.

The institute's recommended "whole-of-school" approach would require "all of a school's components and resources [to] operate in a coordinated and dynamic manner" to give students the chance to engage in at least 60 minutes of daily MVPA. Between 10-20 minutes of this daily MVPA could occur during high-quality physical-education classes, the IOM suggests, but other sources must contribute to reach the 60-minute threshold, too.

The IOM says that elementary schools should provide students with at least 30 minutes of daily physical education, while middle schools and high schools should hold at least 45 minutes of daily physical-education classes. Students should spend at least half of their time in those phys. ed. classes engaging in MVPA, the committee recommends.

Well and Good

The report also suggests that the U.S. Department of Education should designate physical education as a core subject, as it would then "receive much-needed resources and attention that would enhance its overall quality in terms of content offerings, instruction, and accountability." The IOM notes that according to a survey, 44 percent of school administrators admit to having cut physical education and recess time since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001.

In addition to the MVPA time in physical education classes, students can also engage in MVPA during recess, designated classroom-activity breaks, and before- and after-school activities, such as intramural or extracurricular sports, the committee says in the report.

"Schools are critical for the education and health of our children," said Harold W. Kohl III, professor of epidemiology and kinesiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health and chair of the committee that wrote the report, in a statement. "Providing opportunities for physical activity should be a priority for all schools, both through physical education and other options."

The committee noted that there's still plenty of need for research in terms of school-based physical activity, including determining the short- and long-term health, development, and academic impacts of physical education on students. Specifically, the committee calls for further research into determining what time of day is best to integrate physical activity, whether it's through recess, classroom-activity breaks, or physical education.

If some of this sounds familiar, that's because the IOM promoted the role schools could play in reducing childhood obesity not all that long ago. Back in May 2012, the institute released a report that also recommended schools provide students with 60 minutes of MVPA per day, but this new report goes far more in-depth in terms of its recommendations and how they might be accomplished. The new study also strictly focuses on school-based obesity interventions, while the 2012 report took a broader look at obesity-prevention initiatives for all Americans.

On a related note: House Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) will be introducing the PHYSICAL Act in the U.S. House of Representatives today, according to the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. The bill will seek to establish physical education and health education as core subjects within the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

UPDATE (12:00 p.m.): The IOM also released this video today in conjunction with the release of the new report. Consider it the CliffsNotes version.

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