• physical education;
  • physical activity;
  • schools;
  • school policy;
  • surveys


Background:  Comprehensive school-based physical activity programs consist of physical education and other physical activity opportunities including recess and other physical activity breaks, intramurals, interscholastic sports, and walk and bike to school initiatives. This article describes the characteristics of school physical education and physical activity policies and programs in the United States at the state, district, school, and classroom levels.

Methods:  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts the School Health Policies and Programs Study every 6 years. In 2006, computer-assisted telephone interviews or self-administered mail questionnaires were completed by state education agency personnel in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and among a nationally representative sample of districts (n = 453). Computer-assisted personal interviews were conducted with personnel in a nationally representative sample of elementary, middle, and high schools (n = 988) and with a nationally representative sample of teachers of required physical education classes and courses (n = 1194).

Results:  Most states and districts had adopted a policy stating that schools will teach physical education; however, few schools provided daily physical education. Additionally, many states, districts, and schools allowed students to be exempt from participating in physical education. Most schools provided some opportunities for students to be physically active outside physical education. Staff development for physical education was offered by states and districts, but physical education teachers generally did not receive staff development on a variety of important topics.

Conclusions:  To enhance physical education and physical activity in schools, a comprehensive approach at the state, district, school, and classroom levels is necessary. Policies, practices, and comprehensive staff development at the state and district levels might enable schools to improve opportunities for students to become physically active adults.