Nearly 40 percent of California’s public middle and high schoolers—more than 1.3 million teens in total—do not participate in any school-based physical education whatsoever, according to a policy brief
from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
This news may come as a surprise to California state officials, considering the state mandate that middle and high school students receive no less than 400 minutes of physical education every 10 school days.
The policy brief draws on data from the 2007 California Health Interview Survey, which featured interviews with more than 50,000 households (including 3,600 adolescents). Students were asked to assess the number of days they took part in 60 minutes or more of physical activity, along with whether they were taking phys. ed. classes in school.
The brief notes that the proportion of California students participating in school-based physical education drops significantly by age. While 95 percent of the state’s 12 year olds reported taking physical education, that percentage plummets to 61 percent at age 15, 32 percent at age 16, and only 23 percent at age 17. California allows students to obtain permanent phys. ed. exemptions for 11th and 12th grade, which has contributed to the age-based decline in school phys. ed., the authors theorize.
Only 42 percent of the state’s students participate in phys. ed. classes on a daily basis, with similar discrepancies based on age, according to the brief. While 52 percent of 14 year olds reported daily PE, only 15 percent of the state’s 17 year olds reported the same, according to data from the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Adolescent and School Health. Nationally, daily phys. ed. participation follows a similar trend: 47 percent of U.S. 9th graders engage in daily PE, but only 22 percent of 12th graders do so.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adolescents get in at least 60 minutes of physical activity on a daily basis. In California, only 19 percent of students ages 12-17 meet that recommendation (25 percent of boys and 13 percent of girls), according to the brief.
These findings also jibe with national averages, according to the Center for Disease Control’s 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey
. Nationwide, 18.4 percent of students reported participating in 60 minutes of physical activity on each of the past seven days—broken down by gender, 24.8 percent of boys reported doing so, while only 11.4 percent of girls said the same. On the flip side, 23.1 percent of students nationwide said they didn’t take part in 60 minutes worth of physical activity in any of the seven days leading up to the CDC survey.
Those California students who did participate in PE. averaged an additional 18 minutes of physical activity per week, according to the brief.
“Physical activity doesn’t just keep the body healthy and prevent diabetes and obesity, it also feeds the mind,” said Dr. Allison Diamont, one of the policy brief’s authors, in a press release. “Exercise is an education tool.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.