2012 Shape of Nation Report Shows Loopholes Stalling Progress of Phys.Ed Programs

November 30, 2012
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By The American Heart Association

The 2012 Shape of the Nation Report: Status of Physical Edu­cation in the USA, released recently by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) and the American Heart Association, finds that while 74.5 percent of states mandate physical education in elementary through high school, most still fail to require a specific amount of instructional time and nearly half allow exemptions, waivers, and/or substitutions.

These “loopholes” reduce the effectiveness of policy efforts to ensure the quality of physical education currently taught in the nation’s schools.

Currently, New Jersey requires that all students grades 1-12 receive 150 minutes of physical education and/or health education each week. Therefore, students are not required to receive the recommended amount of physical activity each week because it is combined with health education. Additionally, although New Jersey does not allow exemption or waivers for physical education, school districts may grant substitutions to individual students in certain instances.

“The fact that kids are being deprived of physical education in school is unacceptable, especially in a nation suffering from a childhood obesity epidemic,” said Nancy Brown, American Heart Association CEO. “Making physical activity a part of the daily routine is critical to saving the next generation of Americans from heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other serious problems.”

The report found that the majority of states mandate that students take physical education (43 states for elementary, 41 states for middle, and 44 states for high school). However, gaps exist in over half of these states. Thirty-three states permit schools and school districts to allow students to substitute other activities for their required physical education credit. Twenty-eight states allow schools or school districts to grant exemptions/waivers for physical education.

The Spirit of Shrewsbury

The American Heart Association advocates for more frequent, quality physical education in all schools. Quality physical education will engage students in health-promoting physical activity for at least half of class time and teach them the knowledge and skills necessary for lifelong physical activity.

NASPE and the American Heart Association recommend that schools provide 150 minutes per week/30 minutes per day of instructional physical education for elementary school children, and 225 minutes per week/45 minutes per day for middle and high school students for the entire school year. Currently, no states follow these nationally recommended guidelines at all levels. The complete list of physical education program recommendations is included in the full report.


Founded in 1924, the American Heart Association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary health organization dedicated to building healthier lives, free of heart disease and stroke. To help prevent, treat and defeat these diseases – America’s No. 1 and No. 4 killers – the association funds cutting-edge research, conducts lifesaving public and professional educational programs, and advocates to protect public health. To learn more or join us in helping all Americans, call 1-800-AHA-USA1 or visit heart.org.

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