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State spending on parks and recreation and required physical education classes are linked to youth activity

To prevent rising childhood obesity, most State legislatures introduced bills during 2004 and 2005 to revise their physical education (PE) policies to boost youth physical activity. State high school PE unit requirements and curriculum development are correlated with improved participation by boys and girls in PE. State spending on parks and recreation is also correlated with greater overall physical activity by girls, concludes a new study.

Chad Meyerhoefer, Ph.D., an economist with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and fellow investigators examined which State policies were correlated with youth physical activity. They studied the effects of State policies on data for 37,000 high school students across the United States—8 policies related to PE classes and 1 policy on spending on parks and recreation facilities. They estimated that an extra year of required PE was associated with a 50.4 percentage point higher probability that boys reported PE participation and a 69.7 percentage point higher probability that girls reported PE participation.

Overall, a binding PE requirement was associated with an additional 20.7 minutes per week spent active in PE for boys and an additional 32.7 minutes for girls. Also, students were much more likely to be enrolled in PE when the State educational agency had developed its own PE curriculum. Specifically, boys were 31.9 percentage points and girls were 34.8 percentage points more likely to participate in PE class when their State had developed a PE curriculum. However, other policies had either no effect or an ambiguous impact on both physically active time in PE and overall physical activity measures.

Finally, an extra $10 spent per capita on parks and recreation was associated with a third of a day more per week of vigorous exercise by girls. State spending on parks and recreation was also associated with more days of strength building exercise for both sexes. An additional day of this type of activity was associated with an extra $50 per capita spending for boys and $21 for girls. The authors note that it is not well known whether raising physical activity during the teenage years translates into higher physical activity in adulthood.

See "The correlation of youth physical activity with state policies," by John Cawley, Ph.D., Dr. Meyerhoefer, and David Newhouse, in the October 2007 Contemporary Economic Policy 25(4), pp. 506-517.

Reprints (AHRQ Publication No. 08-R025) are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.

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