High school students and physical education: 5 survey findings

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The number of Americans who report being physically inactive or "totally sedentary" may be alarmingly high, but new research suggests American high school students value physical education and activity.

MyCollegeOptions — the nation's largest college planning program, operated by the National Research Center for College & University Admissions — partnered with SHAPE American, or the Society of Health and Physical Educators, to conduct a study to gather valuable insight into the attitudes of students toward physical education and physical activity. The national sample included nearly 80,000 high school students.

Highlighted below are five findings from the study.

1. Nearly half (49 percent) of students report that their participation in physical education class is important to their future health. They also report PE classes help them to relieve stress (45 percent), work well with others (36 percent), feel good (36 percent), gain confidence (28 percent) and focus (24 percent).

2. The biggest lessons students report learning from PE classes include how to maintain a physically active lifestyle (56 percent), how to set fitness goals and maintain fitness levels (54 percent) and how to play sports (51 percent). Additionally, 48 percent report gaining skill development because of their experiences in PE classes.

3. Many students rely on PE classes as their only opportunity for physical activity. Only four in 10 students say they participate in physical activity outside of a PE class five days in an average week, while 31 percent report three to four days, 18 percent report one to two days and 11 percent say they do not participate in physical activity outside classes at all in an average week.

4. Students in lower income households, first-generation students and those who attend lower-income high schools are all significantly more likely to report a lower frequency of participation in physical activity outside of a PE class.

5. Students in rural high schools are significantly more likely to report five or more days of physical activity outside of a physical education class compared to those in suburban and urban schools (44 percent, 39 percent and 35 percent, respectively).

"It is critically important that students learn the necessary skills, knowledge and attitudes in physical education class so that they will want to live healthy, physically active lives," said E. Paul Roetert, PhD, CEO of SHAPE America. "These students reaffirm to us what we already know — health and physical education teachers are uniquely poised to ensure that all kids thrive as healthy and active adults."

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