Percentage of Students in Phys.-Ed. Classes Declining, C.D.C. Reports

By Peter West — September 18, 1991 2 min read

The percentage of students enrolled in physical-education courses has dropped dramatically in the past five years, and even students enrolled in such courses may not be getting sufficient exercise, according to a new report by the federal Centers for Disease Control.

In an article earlier this month, the C.D.C. reported in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that 52.0 percent of females and 43.5 percent of males in a national sample of 11,631 students in grades 9-12 were not enrolled in a physical-education course.

The data were gleaned from the 1990 school-based Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a component of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.

According to the article, only 21.5 percent of the respondents said they attended a physical-education class on a daily basis.

Exercise Tracked

The C.D.C. also noted that few students seem to be engaging in at least 20 minutes of exercise per day, the amount thought necessary to meet basic health requirements. The survey also found that, of students who reported attending a physical-education class within the past two weeks, only 33.2 percent said they had exercised 20 minutes or more in class, three to five times a week.

Almost one-quarter, 23.4 percent, reported that they had not exercised 20 minutes or more during any physical-education class.

The survey also found that females were “significantly” less likely to have reported that they had exercised for at least 20 minutes during a physical-education class within the past two weeks. The report also notes that, compared with a similar study conducted in 1984, enrollments in physical education courses appear to have taken a precipitous drop, from 65 percent of all students in 1984 to 48 percent in 1990.

The study’s findings appear to confirm national trends that physical-education experts find disturbing.

“We did our own study in 1987 which came up with very similar conclusions,” said Debra Lewin, director of communications for the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.

Ms. Lewin said her organization believes that a declining emphasis on daily exercise is taking its toll on the health of young people.

“They’re not getting the opportunity to learn the benefits of cardiovascular exercise early on,” she said. “And we see a correlation between the rising incidence of cardiovascular disease and the trend toward less physical exercise.”

To reverse the trend, the C.D.C. argues, parents, teachers, and other school officials should support policies that ensure that every student enrolls in a daily physical-education course and develop programs to ensure that children receive at least 20 minutes of exercise a day.

A version of this article appeared in the September 18, 1991 edition of Education Week as Percentage of Students in Phys.-Ed. Classes Declining, C.D.C. Reports