Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

Physical Education


  1. Advertising in Schools
  2. BMI Reporting
  3. Class Parties
  4. Communities
  5. Food Rewards
  6. Fundraising
  7. Physical Education
  8. School Lunches
  9. Wellness Policies

7. Physical Education

How frequent should gym classes be?

We believe that students should be physically active each day during the school day. This might take the form of a gym class, but could occur outside formal instruction in the form of a couple of active recess periods or periods of physical activity of choice.

How long should a gym class be?

The length of the gym period is not as critical as the amount of time that the children spend active. Research has demonstrated that the average physical education class includes only 7 minutes of actual physical activity! However long the gym period, we encourage instructors to have the entire period be as active as possible.

What about time requirements for recess?

Some states have legislation mandating recess periods, at least for elementary schools; others do not. The mandate is often for 20 minutes per day. We believe this to be a minimally acceptable duration. But what is truly important is support for an active recess, which means that children must be provided with safe equipment and space, and careful supervision.

My child is overweight and gets bullied during gym class. What can I do to encourage him to still participate in PE activities?

Most schools in the country recognize bullying as a serious problem and many have taken an active approach to eliminating it. However, weight-related “teasing” or taunting is often not recognized as bullying. If this is happening to your child, bring the problem to the attention of the school. One book that we recommend for parents who are supporting an overweight child is All Shapes and Sizes: Promoting Fitness and Self-Esteem in your Overweight Child by Teresa Pitman and Miriam Kaufman. This book provides helpful tips for parents in these kinds of situations.

Many children do not like PE because they do not get many opportunities to participate or move around or have fun. How can the quality of PE classes be improved?

This complaint can be occurring for a few different reasons, and the source of the problem determines the solution. Some PE classes tend to favor the skilled athletes; if this is the case at your school, speak to the instructors about making PE more accessible to the average child, both in terms of everyone getting playing time and engaging in a range of activities so that there is something appealing for everyone. Some PE classes spend a lot of time on academic instruction so that kids are not moving much; the solution here is to turn the focus to physical activity. If you are a parent or student, don’t be afraid to advocate for a PE class that will contribute to building lifelong, healthy exercise habits.

Should video games like Dance, Dance Revolution be encompassed into PE?

This is a tough one, and a question that has engendered significant debate at the Rudd Center. While we advocate the physical activity component of DDR, we also know that screen time is associated with higher body mass index. At this time, we don’t really know whether the net effect of games such as DDR is positive or negative. That is, are kids who would otherwise just be sitting and watching the screen becoming more active, or are kids who would otherwise not be watching the screen now increasing their screen time? We just don’t know. So for now, we recommend physical education encourage physical activity that does not involve video games. That having been said, we always encourage physical activity that is fun.