According to a survey from NPR, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard School of Public Health, almost seven in 10 parents (68 percent) report that their child's school
does not provide daily physical education classes, a recommendation
included in CDC guidelines for schools.

New NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health Poll Finds Lack of Physical Education in Public Schools a Concern of Parents

The poll of 1,368 parents of public school children in grades K-12 covering a range of issues around education and health in the their child's school found one in four parents (25 percent) indicating their child's school gives too little emphasis to physical education, compared with one in seven who say the same thing about reading and writing (14 percent) or math (15 percent).

In addition, about three in 10 parents (28 percent) give a low grade (C, D or F) to their child's school on providing enough time for physical education. Just under two in 10 parents (18 percent) give a low grade to their child's school on providing quality facilities for physical exercise, like playgrounds, ball fields, or basketball courts.

“In a period with a significant public debate about the content of educational reform, it is significant that many parents feel that more physical education is needed in the schools,” said Robert Blendon, ScD, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Health Policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health.

These concerns expressed by some parents are shared by experts in childhood health.

“Experts recommend that high school and middle school students get 225 minutes of physical education per week during the school year, but in fact many don't get that much,” said Dwayne Proctor, PhD, who directs the childhood obesity team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). “Parents should let their state boards of education and their local school districts know that they want more PE for their kids, and encourage state and local policy-makers to provide the necessary resources for full implementation.”

Currently, less than half of youths meet the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommendation of at least 60 minutes of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. This increases youths' health risks and can jeopardize their well-being throughout their lives. Physical activity is also critical to children's cognitive development and academic success.

NPR delves into the poll results with a series of reports airing this week and also available at Pieces from the NPR Science and National Desks explore schools' efforts to address student health needs, including the effectiveness of later start times on the performance of sleep-deprived adolescents, reducing education-related stresses children face, allowing enough time for lunch, improving math and science classes, and career readiness.

Earlier this year the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, titled Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School, which concluded that schools can and should play a major role in both encouraging and providing opportunities for children and teens to be more active.

This poll underscores the need for many of the actions recommended by the IOM report, including:

  •     School districts should provide high-quality physical education, equal to 150 minutes per week for elementary school students and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students.
  •     Students should engage in additional vigorous or moderately intense physical activity throughout the school day through recess, dedicated classroom activities, and other opportunities.
  •     Additional opportunities for physical activity before and after school hours should be accessible to all students.

The poll also found that a substantial number of parents in the United States do not believe the nation's schools are sufficiently preparing students for future careers. Almost a third of parents (31 percent) responded that they do not believe their children's schools are sufficiently teaching professional conduct and a work ethic, and 29 percent do think the schools are helping them to choose areas of study that will lead to a good job.

“In today's knowledge economy, education paves a path to a good job, and a good job leads to better health by improving access to medical care and the resources to live in healthier neighborhoods,” said Proctor.  “Schools need to provide not only the right curriculum, but also help students develop the skills they will need to succeed in work and life.”

Complete poll results can be found at,, and