by Nicole Witham, BS
Twenty-five years ago, adolescents had a better chance of getting their recommended amount of physical activity during the school day than they do today. Project Viva participants who live in Massachusetts are actually at a physical education advantage; Massachusetts is one of only six states that requires gym classes to be offered at every grade level, K-12. Tellingly, a nationally representative survey showed that in 2013, less than half of high school students attended physical education classes in a given week. The decline in physical education accessibility has been partially attributed to the increased pressure states feel to raise standardized testing scores, a mission deemed imperative by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. Ironically, increases in physical activity in children are associated with positive academic and cognitive outcomes, in addition to cardiovascular and metabolic health benefits.
With the ink drying on Congress’ recent re-write of NCLB, perhaps a new era of physical education is in sight. Under the rewritten act, physical education will become a “well-rounded education subject”, or what the previous act deemed a “core subject”. These well-rounded subjects will be eligible for the same federal funding as their core subject predecessors. Considering that the median yearly physical education budget in our country is $764 per school, increasing funding opportunities may allow schools, especially those that educate underserved communities, to expand upon or introduce new physical education initiatives. Schools across the country are already offering innovative opportunities to their students. While traditional gym activities that promote teamwork and friendly competition, like basketball and soccer, still have a place in physical education, there is also a push to develop curricula that are suited for both athletic and not-as-athletic (hand-raising here) students. Seeing as how childhood physical activity has been shown to predict levels of adult physical activity, it is important for physical education in the United States to firstly exist and secondly, influence as many students as possible.