Physical Activity in Schools

Faced with the pressing need to contain and reverse the childhood obesity epidemic, many state and local policymakers and public health advocates have set their sights on K-12 school settings and the many opportunities they provide for changing norms about healthful living. Unfortunately, efforts to institute school-based policies to increase the quality, quantity and scope of physical education and physical activity offerings in grades K-12 often take a back seat to other must-do school system concerns, such as academic performance. 

Now, though, in response to the rapid pace of the obesity epidemic and growing recognition of its health and cost implications, stakeholders at all levels of government are re-thinking educational priorities and moving toward a more holistic approach to K-12 education. This approach is committed to instilling health and wellness as lifelong values by including evidence-based physical education and physical activity policies that offer 21st century solutions to what is truly a 21st century problem.

Many highly collaborative local, regional and state programs are underway to improve existing policies and develop and implement new initiatives for the K-12 school setting. Also, federal organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are promoting evidence-based strategies to encourage physical activity and limit sedentary activity among children – particularly in the school environment.

Across the country, educators and public health professionals are exploring approaches that show promise in promoting and increasing the physical activity of children before, during, and after the school day. Some of the more promising trends include:

  • Improving physical education curricula, teacher qualifications and accountability;
  • Integrating physical activity into the school day and maximizing recess opportunities;
  • Expanding outdoor environmental education opportunities;
  • Conducting, tracking and reporting body mass index (BMI) or similar health screenings;
  • Partnering with communities on Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS) programs; and
  • Enhancing physical activity opportunities in school-based after school programs.


External Resources: