Increasing the amount of physical education time for 5th graders appears to reduce the likelihood of childhood obesity, concludes a study scheduled to be published this month in the Journal of Health Economics.
The authors set out to investigate whether changes in the amount of time spent in physical education could affect the weight of elementary students, using a federal data set that tracked students starting kindergarten in 1998-99.
They found that, across grades K-5, students participated in an average of about 87 minutes of physical education per week. In states with no physical education mandate, though, the amount of weekly time devoted to gym class averaged around 77 minutes. Students typically got 101 minutes of PE a week in states with specified physical education mandates.
Adding an additional 60 minutes of physical education time per week for 5th graders reduced their probability of obesity by 4.8 percentage points, according to the study. The relationship between extra gym-class time and weight appeared to be affected by gender, with boys deriving a greater benefit than girls.
A version of this article appeared in the June 05, 2013 edition of Education Week as Physical Education