The Impact of State Laws and District Policies on Physical Education and Recess Practices in a Nationally Representative Sample of US Public Elementary Schools

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Abstract

Objective

To examine the impact of state- and school district–level policies on the prevalence of physical education (PE) and recess in a nationally representative sample of US public elementary schools.

Design

Analyses from annual, nationally representative, cross-sectional surveys of school administrators in the United States.

Setting

Data were collected through surveys conducted between February and June during the 2006-2007 through 2008-2009 school years. State laws and district policies were compiled annually by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago using established legal research techniques.

Participants

The sample size was 47 states, 690 districts, and 1761 schools.

Main Exposures

State- and school district–level PE and recess-related laws

Main Outcome Measures

Twenty minutes of daily recess and 150 min/wk of PE.

Results

The odds of schools having 150 min/wk of PE increased if they were located in states (odds ratio [OR], 2.8; 95% CI, 1.3-5.7) or school districts (OR, 2.4; 95% CI, 1.3-4.3) having a law or policy requiring 150 min/wk of PE. Schools located in states with laws encouraging daily recess were significantly more likely to have 20 minutes of recess daily (OR, 1.8; 95% CI, 1.2-2.8). District policies were not significantly associated with school-level recess practices. Adequate PE time was inversely associated with recess and vice versa, suggesting that schools are substituting one form of physical activity for another rather than providing the recommended amount of both recess and PE.

Conclusion

By mandating PE or recess, policy makers can effectively increase school-based physical activity opportunities for youth.

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