LOS ANGELES—Higher levels of activity in physical education (PE) class are associated with better academic performance, according to one of two new reports commissioned by The California Endowment, a private, statewide health foundation. However, only four minutes of every half hour of PE class at California schools involve vigorous physical activity.

“Particularly notable is that schools with the highest-quality, most active PE had higher achievement test scores,” said James F. Sallis, Ph.D., director of the Active Living Research Program at San Diego State University and co-author of one of the reports, “Physical Education Matters.” “This finding certainly dispels the myth that spending time in PE detracts from academic performance.”

The policy brief “Physical Education Matters” summarizes existing information about the status of PE in California schools and identifies several research-based strategies for improving the quantity and quality of PE. “Failing Fitness” is a new study of PE in 77 California schools that documents students receive little physical activity during most PE classes, and that the situation is particularly severe in elementary schools and schools in disadvantaged communities. The report also provides practices that must be incorporated into policy in order for school PE to become part of the solution to the childhood obesity epidemic.

“In order to help combat California’s child obesity epidemic, we must make physical education a higher priority in California’s schools,” says Robert K. Ross, M.D., president and CEO of The California Endowment.

The reports’ authors made several recommendations, including to ensure through improved monitoring and enforcement that PE minutes provided to each student meet or exceed state requirements and that national standards for moderate-to-vigorous physical activity time are met. The group also encouraged the adoption and implementation of activity-focused PE curricula that are research-based or consistent with content standards and that PE classes be taught by qualified instructors. The group suggested targeting funding for improving PE quantity and quality to schools serving low-income communities. It also suggested keeping PE class sizes consistent with those of other subjects. One of the other recommendations was to enhance the value of PE within the education community by including PE in school accountability measures, including PE grades in GPAs used by universities, and add PE as a core subject in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“It is clear from these studies that low-quality PE is contributing to health disparities. We must move quickly to adopt these practices in schools serving low-income students who are at greatest risk for obesity,” says Antoinette Yancey, M.D., M.P.H., co-director of the UCLA School of Public Health’s Center to Eliminate Health Disparities and co-author of “Failing Fitness.”

You can access both reports by clicking on the following link: http://www.calendow.org/program_areas/physicaleducation.stm