summarized in Table 3-1. Youth physical activity has also been linked to improved mental health, cognitive functioning, and academic performance; and involvement in physical activity and sports has been associated with a decrease in smoking, alcohol consumption, and drug use and abuse (CDC, 1997; Shephard et al., 1984).

It is well accepted that physical activity has significant health benefits, but the levels of activity required in childhood to achieve those benefits are not fully understood (Sallis and McKenzie, 1991). Furthermore, there is currently little research to directly link students' current or future physical fitness levels to the physical activity that occurs in physical education classes. Although the relationship between school physical education and active adult life-styles is not fully understood, many believe that increasing a person's ability to move competently and confidently may increase their willingness to become more physically active.

Current Practice

A nationwide assessment of physical education programs at the state, district, and school levels was recently completed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of the School Health Policies and Programs Study (SHPPS)1 (Pate et al., 1995). This assessment shows that current instructional practices in physical education do not meet the standards identified by the national health objectives Healthy People 2000 nor the National Standards for Physical Education. According to SHPPS data, most states (94 percent) and school districts (95 percent) require physical education. Yet 80 percent of states and 83 percent of all districts allow students to be excused from physical education classes for reasons such as parents' requests (65 percent of middle schools, 42 percent of secondary schools), physical disability (58 percent of middle schools, 59 percent of secondary schools), and participation in other activities such as band, chorus, or cheerleading (30 percent of middle schools, 23 percent of secondary schools). Even if no exemptions were approved, the number of students participating in daily physical education remains less than optimal. In middle school, less than one-half of the students (47 percent) are required to attend physical education each year (Table 3-2). Of those who

1  

 The School Health Policies and Programs Study was carried out in 1994 to examine policies and programs across multiple components of school health programs at the state, district, school, and classroom levels across the country. The October 1995 issue of The Journal of School Health is devoted to a summary report of SHPPS findings and includes separate analyses of school health education; school physical education; school health services; school foodservice; and school health policies prohibiting tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, and violence.



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