HOPE for the Future: Health Optimizing Physical Education


School physical education (PE) will flourish only when its programs are perceived as being of public importance. Currently many children enjoy it and parents often say it is important, but PE is far from prospering (McKenzie & Lounsbery, 2009). It has far too many objectives for the time and resources (teachers, space, equipment) allocated to it. Meanwhile, PE program objectives are not prioritized and schools are rarely held accountable for reaching them–except on occasion, physical fitness.

I think we need HOPE (Health Optimizing Physical Education)! HOPE focuses specifically on the public health goal of developing lifelong physical activity (rather than viewing it as an afterthought).

Reorienting traditional programs toward HOPE does not require that all standard objectives of physical education be abandoned, but it does call for them to be reprioritized. For students to accrue adequate amounts of current physical activity and be prepared for an active lifestyle in adulthood, I believe physical education needs to provide curricula and instruction that:

  1. provide ample opportunities for physical activity during class time
  2. are enjoyable
  3. teach generalizable movement skills
  4. teach generalizable behavioral skills
  5. teach how to be safe in active environments
  6. encourage present and future physical activity and fitness

Except for the notion of including generalizable behavioral skills, the above list does not contain new goals for physical education. Note, however, that several goals currently common to physical education are not listed, including the promotion of academic achievement, social development, and cultural awareness. While these three goals are indeed important educational aims, they are not the sole purview of physical education, but are the responsibility of all school curricular areas and programs. The main foci of physical education should target outcomes that other school programs avoid: physical activity promotion, physical skills, and physical fitness.

Implementing HOPE would require reallocating school resources and staff attention. The greatest public health benefit would result from programs that target students who are sedentary, instead of allocating resources to those already physically fit and active. During PE, less emphasis could be given to the motorically elite (i.e., athletes) who traditionally receive more opportunities during PE and have greater access to intramural and interscholastic programs.

-Thomas L. McKenzie, PhD

Professor Emeritus, School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences San Diego State University San Diego


“It takes a village–to raise a child’s physical activity level.”  (T. McKenzie, 2010)