Potential Modifications to Physical Education Requirements in California

Authors: UCLA School of Public Health

Location: California, United States

Completion Date: June 2007

HIA Report: Health Impact Assessment of the Potential Modifications to Physical Education Requirements in California

Summary of the HIA

Proposed Policy or Project

Over the past two years several proposals have been introduced by the California State Legislature and the California Department of Education to improve the quality and quantity of P.E. in California. This Health Impact Assessment (HIA) examines state-level policies that aim to increase physical activity levels for students in grades K-12.

Background and Policy Context

Approximately 15% of all U.S. children were classified as overweight in 2000.[ref] Rates of childhood obesity and sedentary lifestyle have increased rapidly in the past decade, contributing to a growing burden of lifelong chronic disease, disability and early death. [ref] Key factors driving these trends are changes to the physical and social environments that facilitate and promote the consumption of calorically-dense foods and erode the role of physical activity as a part of daily living. [ref] For children, the school environment can have a large impact on their eating and activity patterns. Consequently, poor eating and consumption patterns at school have received a great deal of attention and have prompted a number of successful measures to alter the nutrition environment of schools. The State of California mandates a minimum number of minutes of physical education instruction in public schools, but compliance is substandard, particularly in the elementary grades. [ref] The trend in schools has been towards less physical education, not more. Furthermore, in a typical P.E. class most students are not active most of the time. [ref] Of the different policy options available to improve the quality and quantity of P.E., this HIA examines those options which seem most likely to increase we sought to determine which are most likely to have the biggest impact on students’ physical activity levels, particularly among inactive students.

Scope and Methods

A spreadsheet-based model was developed to predict what potential changes in physical activity would occur if three P.E. policy scenarios for middle and high school students in California were altered:

  1. Increase the percent time in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) during P.E. in secondary grades where P.E. is mandatory (i.e. grades 6-10);
  2. Increase compliance with state P.E. requirements (i.e. 400 minutes every 10 school days in secondary grades);
  3. Require P.E. in 11th and 12th grades (assumed 11th and 12th graders are currently exempt).

Data from various sources were combined to estimate how each policy scenario would affect levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) among California’s secondary school students. These effects were assessed over the entire target population and between those classified as overweight versus normal weight.

Summary of Findings

Targeting the percent time spent in MVPA during P.E. has the greatest potential for increasing health-inducing physical activity levels among secondary school students. Based on the comparative analysis of the three scenarios, increasing the percent time spent in MVPA during P.E. has the greatest potential particularly for overweight children. Further analyses might take into account the costs of each policy scenario to be able to make statements regarding their relative cost-effectiveness. P.E. policies by themselves are unlikely to lead to significant reductions in morbidity and mortality related to sedentary lifestyle and obesity. Physical activity in P.E. classes, however, is an essential component of efforts to combat these conditions; in part because young people spend so much of their waking hours in school and because increasing physical activity in P.E. has the potential to reach the students who are at greatest risk. Requiring that at least 50% of P.E. time be spent in MVPA requires commitment in securing resources that enable students to meet recommendations and the ability to monitor school compliance. P.E. classes have a number of characteristics that are associated with time spent in MVPA, e.g.- large class size is associated with more time managing and less time in MVPA; certain activities such as softball provide less MVPA than soccer, and smaller spaces and lack of P.E. equipment also reduces time in MVPA. If activity levels increase only among students who are already highly active, then the population health impact of these changes will be minimal. Therefore, it is essential that policy-makers consider adopting policies that impact sedentary students the most if the goal of changes to P.E. requirements is to decrease the rise in sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and other health risks.

Project Inputs

FTE-months of effort (Research Assistants): 

Products Produced

Number of Pages in Final Report: 
Policy Brief: 

Background Reports


Brian Cole, Dr.PH

UCLA, Box 651772, Rm 61-253 CHS
Los Angeles

(310) 206-4253