Where does PE fit within our schools? (Part Two)


Can PE contribute optimally to both educational and health goals?  There is a clear illustration that public health’s priorities for PE are not shared in the PE field.  The public health concern is that PE is the only required time for physical activity that affects almost all students on a regular basis. Remember that almost all of the school day is enforced sitting.  It is essential to ensure that opportunity for activity and health promotion is not missed. The Healthy People health promotion objectives for the US adopted a goal that at least 50% of PE class time would be spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA).  Everyone is aware that “PE is more than just physical activity,” but the objective does not require that PE would be reduced to exercise programs where students run all the time.  Active learning, less-active skill drills, game play, and some didactics would seem to fit comfortably in classes that are at least 50% active.  But studies show 50% MVPA requires planning, and often training and an appropriate curriculum.  Major studies funded by NIH, such as SPARK, CATCH, LEAP, and TAAG showed that activity levels can be raised in elementary, middle, and high schools, so the 50% MVPA is realistic and evidence-based. 

The 50% MVPA objective was announced in 1990, repeated in 2000, and is likely to remain in the 2010 editions of Healthy People.  CDC’s Community Guide recommends “enhanced” or highly active PE as an evidence-based intervention to promote physical activity.  The public health community is strong in its support for PE.  However, to my knowledge, no state education department, no PE professional organization, and no school district has adopted the 50% MVPA objective as a requirement or official goal.

This situation demonstrates the need for ongoing dialog between education and health departments at the national, state, and local levels, to work together to achieve multiple aims through excellent PE.  Because improved PE would benefit health, perhaps part of PE’s funding should come from the health sector.  There are several examples of this approach being effective, so it is a model that could be expanded.

James Sallis