The U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans states children six years and older should get at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Physical activity has been to shown to improve cognitive function, academic performance and classroom behaviors among students, while physical inactivity is a major risk factor for poor health, such as obesity, diabetes, and depression. In Douglas County:
- Nearly one in three (29%) children between the ages of 5-17 are overweight or obese.
- Nearly half (48%) of Omaha parents report that their child is not physically active for at least one hour daily.
Considering the positive effects of good health on academic performance, and the fact that children spend a significant proportion of their time in school, schools are an ideal place to provide access to an opportunity for obtaining physical activity. A high- quality physical education program, the cornerstone of a comprehensive school physical activity program, includes 150 minutes of class time weekly for elementary students, wherein students are engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity for 50% of class time. Unfortunately, most schools do not meet the Society of Health and Physical Educators recommended physical education standards. The CDC’s School Health Policies and Practices Study: 2014 found only 4% of schools nationwide provided students with 150 minutes of minutes of elementary physical education weekly.
To inform the school, family and community strategies for promoting youth physical activity, Live Well Omaha partnered with University of Nebraska Medical Center: College of Public Health to conduct Student Moves: A Mixed Methods Cross-Sectional Study of Elementary School-Based Physical Activity. Student Moves assessed current physical education practices among a sample of third- grade students in Omaha, NE. Six third grade classrooms from three elementary schools, with a combined total of 129 students, participated in Student Moves. Variables of interest included: frequency, intensity, and duration of physical activity obtained through physical education class.
Methods of data collection included: submission of a two- week PE schedule for each participating third grade class, on-site PE observations using the System for Observing Fitness Instruction Time, and completion of the School Health Index to assess school health and safety policies and practices in the areas of: nutrition, physical activity and physical education, and family/ community engagement.
The average number of PE classes observed in a given week was 1.33 (mode was one). The total average physical education time recorded was 62.5 minutes weekly. The mean proportion of PE class time that students were engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity was 67%, which equates to 42 minutes of moderate-vigorous physical activity weekly. School Health Index scores ranged from 60-73% of total points possible, pertaining to policies and practices in place, such as ‘implementation of active learning strategies in the classroom,’ ‘licensed physical education teachers,’ ‘access to school physical activity facilities outside of school hours’ and ‘sequential physical education curriculum consistent with standards.’
Out of 39 states which formally require elementary physical education, less than half (19) specify a minimum time requirement. Among the 19 states that require a specific number of physical education minutes per week, most including Missouri, North Dakota and Ohio, do not meet the SHAPE America standard of 150 minutes weekly. Only four states: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, Oregon, and D.C. have enacted policies to ensure students receive the recommended amount of 150 minutes of physical education weekly.
The three Omaha elementary schools that participated in the Student Moves project do not meet the SHAPE America standard for essential components of effective physical education. Student Moves findings suggest state or district standards that address the quantity of elementary physical education are necessary to ensure students receive 150 minutes of physical education weekly.
School Health Index scores ranged from 60- 73% of total points possible. The School Health Index is an assessment of school-level health and safety policies and practices based on the CDC School Health Guidelines for reducing youth health risk behavior, therefore the sample data indicate there is substantial variance in school-level policies and practices for promoting student health, as well as significant room for improvement among schools.
- Require individual schools to complete the School Health Index annually for district wellness policy reporting. Publish annual report findings.
- Include a PE time requirement of 150 minutes for elementary students in district policy to meet SHAPE America standards.
- Implement a comprehensive school physical activity program that provides students with 60 minutes of daily school-based physical activity.
- Open school facilities for community use outside of school hours.
- Advocate for state PE standards that reflect SHAPE America national standards.