A recent study indicates students in the United States are not meeting physical activity guidelines, and there are unexpected differences between poor and wealthy schools.
More students in poor schools got a minimum level of physical activity during the week, even though students in wealthier schools were more likely to have a qualified physical education (PE) teacher.
The study, titled “Socioeconomic Disparities in Elementary School Practices and Children’s Physical Activity During School,” was conducted in San Diego and Seattle. In the schools surveyed, a principal or PE teacher answered 15 questions related to physical activity. This was the primary way of collecting data.
Schools in low Socioeconomic Status (SES) areas were more likely to have a trained PE teacher when compared to wealthier schools, but neither group met the state requirement of 100 minutes per week of physical activity. Low SES areas were defined by the percentage of students provided with free school meals.
Wealthier schools were more likely to have a PE teacher with smaller classes, consisting of less than 30 students; however, these schools were less likely to meet the state requirements for physical activity.
According to Russell Pate, Ph.D., director of the Children’s Physical Activity Research Group at the University of South Carolina, children that live in low SES areas often lack recreational facilities near their homes and have less access to safe streets, parks, and playgrounds. However, they may have a safer recreational environment at school.
The study found that low SES schools were more likely to include a minimum of 20 minutes of physical activity, but they lacked the vigorous physical activity found in wealthier schools.
Pate also believes that low SES schools may also deal with funds being diverted from physical education toward academic subjects.
“Children receive many important benefits from physical activity, benefits that aren’t limited to health,” said study author Jordan Carlson, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego, in a press release.
Study results indicate that regular physical activity strengthens the body and helps improve concentration, behavior, and achievement, in addition to reducing the chances of developing chronic disease during adulthood.
Carlson believes that schools should prioritize physical activity in their curriculums as a way to support academic achievement.
“The idea is gaining momentum that expecting kids to sit and focus on schoolwork for six hours a day without regular activity breaks, is ridiculous,” said Pate in a press release. “None of us work like that.”