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CDC Reveals Positive Physical Education Trends Over Past Decade

Since the turn of the millennium, the proportion of states and districts paying closer heed to students' physical fitness has increased significantly, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.

The "2012 School Health Policies and Practices Study" (SHPPS), released this week, found that the percentage of districts requiring elementary schools to teach physical education increased by more than 10 percentage points over the past 12 years. In 2000, 82.6 percent of districts required phys. ed. in elementary schools; by 2012, that figure jumped to 93.6 percent of districts.

In addition, 58.9 percent of districts required and 32.4 percent recommended that elementary schools provide students with regularly scheduled recess. (The American Academy of Pediatrics spoke out last December about the unique role of recess in the development of children.)

At the middle school level, the percentage of states that provided lesson plans or learning activities for phys. ed. increased from 30.6 percent in 2000 to 60.8 percent in 2012, the CDC found. Additionally, the percentage of states that provided tools for evaluating students' progress in middle school phys. ed. similarly jumped from 33.3 percent in 2000 to 64.0 percent in 2012.

Well and Good

Professional development for physical education teachers also showed a significant increase at both the state and district level since 2000. More states and districts either provided PD or funding for PD in: administering or using fitness tests; encouraging family involvement in physical activity; implementing methods to increase the amount of class time students are engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity; and teaching movement skills and concepts.

Nationwide, as of 2012, 86.1 percent of districts had adopted a policy stating that schools will follow any national, state, or district phys. ed. standards, with an additional 4.5 percent of districts encouraging this practice. This represents nearly a 20 percentage-point increase from 2000, when only 66.5 percent of districts had such a policy.

Of these districts, 61.4 percent required schools to assess student achievement based on the phys. ed. standards used by their district.

More than 90 percent of districts required elementary, middle, and high schools to teach PE. Roughly three-fourths of districts have specified time requirements for elementary, middle, and high school classes.

"Schools play a critical role in the health and well-being of our youth," said Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, in a statement. "Good news for students and parents—more students have access to healthy food, better physical-fitness activities through initiatives such as 'Let's Move,' and campuses that are completely tobacco-free."

All of this increased attention to students' physical fitness appears to be paying off. Childhood-obesity rates in the U.S. have more or less stabilized over the past decade, according to a report released earlier this month by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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