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School-based physical education

Health Factors: Diet & Exercise
Decision Makers: Educators Local Government State Government Grantmakers
Evidence Rating: Scientifically Supported
Population Reach: 10-19% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: No impact on disparities likely

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Expand or enhance school-based physical education (PE) by lengthening existing classes, increasing physical activity during class, adding new PE classes, etc. Local schools can implement policies or state governments can set standards to expand or enhance school-based PE.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes

Increased physical activity
Improved physical fitness
Improved health outcomes
Improved weight status
Increased self-esteem

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that enhancing school-based physical education increases physical activity and physical fitness among school-aged children (CG-Physical activity, Demetriou 2012, Cawley 2013, Story 2009). Enhancing/expanding PE classes as part of a multicomponent school-based obesity prevention intervention has also been shown to increase physical activity and improve health (Nixon 2012, Cochrane-Waters 2011, Cochrane-Dobbins 2013).

School-based physical education (PE) classes have been shown to lower body mass index (BMI) and reduce the likelihood of obesity among 5th graders, particularly boys (Cawley 2013). Implementing state regulations for physical education can increase student activity levels by some measures, such as the number of minutes students are active in PE class and the number of days per week that students report exercising (Cawley 2007). In a study of the SPARK program, PE classes led by PE specialists or trained teachers provided students with substantially more physically active minutes per week than typical PE classes, and after 2 years, girls in the specialist-led classes maintained an advantage in cardio-respiratory endurance and abdominal strength over girls in typical PE classes (Sallis 1997). School-based physical activity interventions have also been shown to improve motor performance, knowledge of physical activity, and to a lesser extent, self-concept (Demetriou 2012).

In general, increases in physical activity result in small improvements in weight status (Cochrane-Shaw 2006). Although increasing physical activity in schools increases school-aged children’s physical activity and physical fitness, it has not been shown to result in significant weight changes (Harris 2009a).


United States

The Carol M. White Physical Education Program (US ED-Carol M. White) provides grants to local education authorities (LEAs) and community-based organizations (CBOs) to initiate, expand, or enhance physical education programs.

Michigan’s Exemplary Physical Education Curriculum (EPEC) project team develops, tests, and disseminates materials and procedures that enable schools to promote physical activity.


The Governor’s School Health Award (GSHA) encourages schools to adopt enhanced PE (CDC-Wisconsin school health).

Implementation Resources

CDC-PE 2010 - National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP), Division of Adolescent and Student Health (DASH). Strategies to improve the quality of physical education. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); 2010. Accessed on November 27, 2015
Let's Move-Active schools - Let’s Move! Active schools. Accessed on March 23, 2017
SPARK - Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids (SPARK). Countering childhood obesity since 1989. Accessed on November 9, 2015

Citations - Evidence

Cawley 2007 - Cawley J, Meyerhoefer C, Newhouse D. The impact of state physical education requirements on youth physical activity and overweight. Health Economics. 2007;16(12):1287–1301. Accessed on December 1, 2015
Cawley 2013* - Cawley J, Frisvold D, Meyerhoefer C. The impact of physical education on obesity among elementary school children. Journal of Health Economics. 2013;32(4):743–55. Accessed on March 1, 2016
CG-Physical activity - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Physical activity. Accessed on June 16, 2017
Cochrane-Dobbins 2013* - Dobbins M, Husson H, DeCorby K, LaRocca RL. School-based physical activity programs for promoting physical activity and fitness in children and adolescents aged 6 to 18. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2013;(2):CD007651. Accessed on December 14, 2015
Cochrane-Shaw 2006* - Shaw KA, Gennat HC, O’Rourke P, Del Mar C. Exercise for overweight or obesity. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2006;(4):CD003817. Accessed on December 14, 2015
Cochrane-Waters 2011* - Waters E, de Silva-Sanigorski A, Burford BJ, et al. Interventions for preventing obesity in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2011;(12):CD001871. Accessed on May 23, 2017
Demetriou 2012* - Demetriou Y, Höner O. Physical activity interventions in the school setting: A systematic review. Psychology of Sport and Exercise. 2012;13(2):186-96. Accessed on December 14, 2015
Harris 2009a - Harris KC, Kuramoto LK, Schulzer M, Retallack JE. Effect of school-based physical activity interventions on body mass index in children: A meta-analysis. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2009;180(7):719–26. Accessed on February 5, 2016
Nixon 2012 - Nixon CA, Moore HJ, Douthwaite W, et al. Identifying effective behavioural models and behaviour change strategies underpinning preschool- and school-based obesity prevention interventions aimed at 4-6-year-olds: A systematic review. Obesity Reviews. 2012;13(Suppl 1):106-17. Accessed on May 23, 2017
Sallis 1997 - Sallis JF, McKenzie TL, Alcaraz JE, et al. The effects of a 2-yr physical education program (SPARK) on physical activity and fitness in elementary school students. American Journal of Public Health. 1997;87(8):1328–34. Accessed on May 24, 2016
Story 2009 - Story M, Nanney MS, Schwartz MB. Schools and obesity prevention: Creating school environments and policies to promote healthy eating and physical activity. Milbank Quarterly. 2009;87(1):71–100. Accessed on May 20, 2016

Citations - Implementation

CDC-Wisconsin school health - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Adolescent and school health: Wisconsin. Accessed on December 8, 2015
EPEC - Exemplary Physical Education Curriculum (EPEC). A comprehensive and flexible K-5 physical activity system. Accessed on February 2, 2016
US ED-Carol M. White - US Department of Education (US ED). Carol M. White physical education program. Accessed on February 28, 2017

Page Last Updated

January 10, 2014

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