- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

ALBANY, N.Y.

Researchers report that in the typical high school gym class — where there are a few jumping jacks before a halfhearted game of softball — students are active for an average of just 16 minutes.

The report by Cornell University researchers also found that adding 200 minutes more of physical education time per week had little effect.

“What’s actually going on in gym classes? Is it a joke?” asked John Cawley, lead author of the study and a professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell.

The study was based on annual surveys of 37,000 high school students by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data come from the annual youth behavior surveys from 1999, 2001 and 2003, which include questions about students’ exercise habits.

In recent years, nearly all states have introduced bills to increase or reform physical education. Healthy People 2010, a federal initiative to improve physical fitness, has made it a goal to improve curriculum.

The National Association of Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), an association of fitness educators and professionals, has long recommended 45 minutes a day of gym class for middle and high school students. Most schools fall short of that goal, the group said. Even limited class time can be wasted because gym is not considered a core subject like math or reading, said NASPE President Jackie Lund.

“There’s no national standard, so there’s limited accountability,” she said.

The Cornell report found that adding 200 minutes of physical education a week resulted in boys spending only about 7 more minutes being active in gym class.

For girls, an additional 200 minutes of physical education resulted in about 8 more minutes of being active in gym each week.

The rest of the extra gym time is likely spent being sedentary — most likely standing idly while playing sports like softball or volleyball that don’t require constant movement, Mr. Cawley said.

“We’re not saying schools should get rid of [physical education], but that increasing time alone has no effect. There has to be a meaningful change in the curriculum,” he said.

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