BACKGROUND: Schools can be an efficient venue for promoting physical activity (PA) among adolescents. Physical education (PE) requires investigation because it is a variable associated with adolescent PA levels and its existence in schools represents a significant opportunity for strategies to combat declining PA levels among this population. This article examines the between-school variability in student rates of PE enrollment among a large sample of high schools in Ontario, Canada, and identifies the school- and student-level characteristics associated with PE enrollment.
METHODS: This cross-sectional study utilized self-reported school- and student-level data from administrators and students at 73 high schools. Students' enrollment in PE, demographic, behavioral, and psychosocial variables was linked to school environment data comprising of school demographics and administrator assessed quality of policies, facilities, and programs related to PA. Analysis involved multilevel modeling.
RESULTS: The mean rate of PE enrollment among the 73 high schools was 62.4%, with rates by school ranging from 28.9% to 81.1%. When student demographics, behavioral, and psychosocial factors were controlled for, there was still a school effect for student PE enrollment. The school effect was explained by the provision of daily PE and school median household income.
CONCLUSIONS: This is the first study to examine the extent to which PE enrollment varies between schools and to identify school factors associated with school variability in rates of PE enrollment. Although most variation in PE enrollment lies between students within schools, there is sufficient between-school variation to be of interest to practitioners and policy makers.