Staying Active Throughout the School Day

Children require at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. Schools can help prevent obesity by offering higher quality and more active physical education—for all grades, every day—and by promoting physical activity throughout the school day. But according to the U.S. Government Accounting Office, which reviewed the most recent national data, physical education instruction time has decreased in the U.S., and only 4 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle schools, and 2 percent of high schools in the U.S. offered daily physical education (or its equivalent) in 2006. (1) Though more and more schools have instituted physical education requirements, many schools still do not require students to take physical education, especially at the high school level: In 2006, only 1 in 5 schools nationwide had a physical education requirement for students in grades 11 and 12.

Here is a summary of school physical activity and physical education obesity prevention recommendations, based on a review of expert guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute of Medicine, the World Health Organization, the American Heart Association, and others. For more detailed guidance on these recommendations and ideas for putting them into practice, explore the source list and the links to other resources.

Physical Education

Read and print the complete list of school obesity prevention recommendations.

Provide daily physical education (PE) to children in grades K-12 (1,2,3,4,5)
Provide a total of 150 minutes of PE per week in elementary school and 225 minutes per week in middle and high school (2,3,5)
Ensure that children spend most of their PE time being physically active (3,4,5,7)
Base PE on national standards (3,5)
Adapt PE curricula for children with disabilities or special needs (1,3,4,7)
Hire licensed PE teachers and offer them ongoing training (3,4,5)
Limit PE class sizes so that they are similar to academic class sizes (3,4)
Promote enjoyable activities and lifelong physical activity in PE (4,7)
Assess student learning in PE and include in school report cards (3,5)
Make sure that PE requirements are not waived for other physical or academic activities (3,5,7)

Physical Activity During School and Out-of-School Time

Joint Use Agreements
Obesity Prevention Resource

Public Health Law and Policy, a California-based non-profit, offers a toolkit forOpening School Grounds to the Community After Hours and Model Joint-Use Agreements.

Provide all students an opportunity for daily physical activity (3,8)
Give elementary school students daily recess, and schedule recess before lunch (1,2,3,6,7)
Avoid withholding or mandating physical activity for disciplinary or academic reasons (1,7)
Develop active transit plans (bike, walk to school), working with local government and community groups(1,2,3,7,8)
Offer children physical activity opportunities before and after school, including competitive sports and noncompetitive activities (1,2,3,7,8,9)
Collaborate with communities to maximize use of school and community spaces for physical activity during and outside school hours (2,3,7,8)
Monitor physical activity space and equipment for safety(3,7)
Offer staff opportunities for physical activity (1)

Staying Active throughout the School Day—Source List

1. Pekruhn C. Preventing Childhood Obesity: A School Health Policy Guide Arlington, VA: Center for Safe and Healthy Schools, National Association of State Boards of Education; 2009.

2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation. 2010. Accessed May 1, 2012.

3. Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Healthy Schools Program Framework 2009. Accessed July 11, 2011.

4. Wechsler H, McKenna ML, Lee SM, Dietz WH. The Role of Schools in Preventing Childhood ObesityThe State Education Standard. 2004.

5. American Heart Association. Policy Position Statement on Physical Education in Schools. 2008. Accessed May 1, 2012.

6. American Heart Association. Policy Position Statement on School Nutrition. 2008. Accessed May 1, 2012.

7. Lagarde F, LeBlanc CMA, McKenna M, et al. School policy framework : implementation of the WHO global strategy on diet, physical activity and health Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2008.

8. Institute of Medicine. Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance  Washington, D.C.: Institue of Medicine; 2005.

9. White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity. Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity within a Generation: White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President. 2010. Accessed July 11, 2011.

Terms of Use

The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source Web site is to provide timely information about obesity’s global causes, consequences, prevention, and control, for the public, health and public health practitioners, business and community leaders, and policymakers. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The Web site’s obesity prevention policy recommendations are based primarily on a review of U.S. expert guidance, unless otherwise indicated; in other countries, different policy approaches may be needed to achieve improvements in food and physical activity environments, so that healthy choices are easy choices, for all.

Terms of Use

The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source Web site is to provide timely information about obesity’s global causes, consequences, prevention, and control, for the public, health and public health practitioners, business and community leaders, and policymakers. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The Web site’s obesity prevention policy recommendations are based primarily on a review of U.S. expert guidance, unless otherwise indicated; in other countries, different policy approaches may be needed to achieve improvements in food and physical activity environments, so that healthy choices are easy choices, for all.