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

Slater SJ, Nicholson L, Chriqui JF, Turner L, and Chaloupka FJ. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 166(4): 311-316, 2011.

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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