WASHINGTON – Physical activity should be incorporated into all school-related policy decisions to ensure children have at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, a government body recommended.
Such a “whole-of-school approach” was one conclusion of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) after reviewing the physical activity and physical education (PE) in schools for a report released Thursday.
The report – “Engaging the Student Body” – found physical education in schools is more devoted to building motor skills or learning healthy life skills for later in life, but PE classes are likely only to provide 10 to 20 minutes of meaningful activity per session.
“Physical education, then, although important, cannot be the sole source of the at least 60 minutes per day of vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity recommended to enhance the health of children and adolescents,” the report stated. “Other ways to promote physical activity in youth must therefore be systematically exploited to provide physical activity opportunities.”
Therefore, schools should look to all segments of the school day – travel to and from school, PE, classroom time, before- and after-school activities – to find opportunities to promote and engage in physical activity.
“Under such an approach, all of a school’s components and resources operate in a coordinated and dynamic manner to provide access, encouragement, and programs that enable all students to engage in vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity 60 minutes or more each day,” the report stated.
While children of all ages should engage in at least 60 minutes of vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity per day, recent estimates suggest only about half of school-age children meet this requirement, the IOM said. Moreover, the proportion of youth who meet this guideline declines with age, and daily opportunities for physical activity have declined for children and adolescents.
The report noted that roughly half of the needed 60 minutes will come during regular school hours. The rest will come from such things like an active commute to school and intramural and extramural sports, it said.
“Unfortunately, school-related physical activity has been fragmented and varies greatly across the U.S., within states, within districts, and even within schools,” the report found.
There are other proposals from the IOM on how to encourage the other half of the physical activity kids need:
- Federal and state governments, including school districts and city governments, should look for strategies beyond the school day including after-school programs and sharing facilities where children can be physically active as ways to promote fitness. These multicomponent interventions are the “most thorough, yet often most difficult to implement,” the report said.
- The Department of Education should designate PE as a core subject. School administrators have reported cutting PE and recess to increase time for reading and math in response to the No Child Left Behind Act. “If treated as a core academic subject, physical education would receive much-needed resources and attention that would enhance its overall quality in terms of content offerings, instruction, and accountability,” the report said.
- Education and public health agencies should develop data systems to monitor policies and behaviors relating to physical activity and PE in a school setting.
- Colleges and universities should provide training and on-going professional development for PE teachers.
“Clearly schools are being underutilized in the ways in which they provide opportunities for physical activity for children and adolescents,” the report found. “A whole-of-school approach that makes the school a resource to enable each child to attain the recommended 60 minutes or more per day of vigorous or moderate-intensity physical activity can change this situation.”
The IOM has tried to address health issues in similar ways recently, suggesting a “society-wide approach” to tackling the obesity epidemic in a report released last May.