School is all about the brain and increasingly very little about the body. Calculus and test-taking have pushed physical education classes off the schedule in most schools in the United States. Results? Not smarter kids as you may expect but sometimes hyperactive kids in need of meds to keep them in their seats and overweight kids with health problems.
Stephen E. Erfle of Dickinson College addressed the issue in a book chapter titled “Analyzing the Effects of Daily Physical Education in Middle Schools on Obesity: Evidence from Pennsylvania’s Active Schools Program” from the 2014 Handbook of Physical Education Research: Role of School Programs, Children’s Attitudes and Health Implications.
The question: Do students at schools with daily PE (minimum 30 minutes) have significantly better outcomes than students at schools without daily PE?
Thirty schools in Pennsylvania with daily PE and nine control—no daily PE– schools took part.
- Certain programs were deemed more successful.
- Females had higher treatment effect on health outcomes including body mass index (BMI) changes.
- Males had higher treatment effect on behavioral outcomes including changes in curl-ups, push-ups and mile run.
This study from Pennsylvania suggests positive health benefits from daily physical education in the curriculum. Yet state education laws in the United States differ. And the link to weight and other health outcomes is not clear in all cases.
Countries around the world struggle with soaring obesity in their children. It pays to look for inspiration in places where those numbers are less daunting. In some countries, such as Germany, physical exercise is a big part of a young child’s school day but becomes less so in high school. However, the school day at all levels is shorter, allowing ample time for sports which usually take place on club teams.
Perhaps “instruction” in physical education is not the only answer. Instead, a shorter school day with ample resources for basketball or jump rope or community sports would allow more young people to catch the exercise bug.