Gym gone but not forgotten? Parents want more physical activity at school for kids

April 18, 2011 Volume 12 Issue 3
  • 94% of parents think it’s very important for elementary school kids to get physical activity during the school day
  • One-third of parents think their kids do not get enough physical activity at school
  • Obese and overweight parents are more likely to say that their kids do not get enough physical activity

Childhood obesity affects 1 of every 6 kids in the United States, in part due to a lack of physical activity.  Historically, elementary schools provided daily recess and regular gym class, which offered opportunities for physical activity during the school day.  More recently, emphasis on academic achievement, coupled with budget cuts, have prompted many schools to cut back on both recess and gym class.

Parents’ opinions about these changes have not been examined at the national level.  In January 2011, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked parents of children age 6 to 11 about their views on physical activity in schools.

Parents Say: Too Little Time in Gym

Parents are virtually unanimous (94% agree) in their views about the importance of physical activity for elementary-school kids during the school day.  However, one-third of parents think their kids do not get enough physical activity at school.  

Overall, a substantial proportion of parents feel their child’s elementary schools have too little time in gym class (35%), not enough playground equipment (26%) and too little time for recess (22%). 
   
Parents’ own weight is related to perceptions of the need for schools to help children be physically active (Table 1). With regard to time for gym, playground equipment, time for recess and playground space, overweight and obese parents were more likely than other parents to say their kids did not have enough.

Implications

Parents see many reasons why physical activity is valuable for their children—not just in preventing obesity but also in promoting healthy physical development.  For parents of children in elementary school, it is critically important that children get the physical activity they need during the school day.

Academic and budget pressures  threaten schools’ ability to provide outlets and opportunities for children’s physical activity.  Parents are noticing.  School officials should note the strong support from parents on the importance of physical activity for elementary-age children. 

In particular, parents who rate themselves as overweight or obese are more likely to say that their children do not get enough physical activity at school, in both gym and recess.  This is a new insight that indicates parents with their own weight challenges see schools as a key partner in battling obesity for their kids.

Data Source

This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey conducted exclusively by Knowledge Network, Inc. (KN), for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital via a method used in many published studies.  The survey was administered in January 2011 to a randomly selected, stratified group of parents with children age 6 to 11 (n=718) from the KN standing panel that closely resembles the U.S. population.  The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau.  The survey completion rate was 54% among parent panel members contacted to participate.  The margin of sampling error is ± 2 to 6 percentage points.

Findings from the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health do not represent the opinions of the investigators or the opinions of the University of Michigan.  The University of Michigan reserves all rights over this material.  

Director: Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Associate Director: Sarah J. Clark, MPH
Manager & Editor: Dianne C. Singer, MPH
Data Analyst: Amy T. Butchart, MPH

This next set of questions relates to children and the physical activity that they can get at school.

Q1. What type of school does your [INSERT AGE OF CHILD AGE 6-11]–year old child go to?

  • Public school
  • Private school
  • Charter school
  • Home school
  • Does not attend school
  • Other

[IF Q1 = PUBLIC, PRIVATE OR CHARTER SCHOOL, THEN Q 2, 3 & 4]

Q2. In general, how important is it for children in elementary school to get some type of physical activity during every school day?

  • Very important
  • Somewhat important
  • Not important

Q3. Think about the amount of physical activity your [INSERT AGE OF CHILD AGE 6-11]-year-old child gets at school in a typical day.  Is it:

  • Not enough
  • About right
  • Too much

Q4. Thinking about your [INSERT AGE OF CHILD AGE 6-11]-year-old child’s school, please rate the following:

  Not enough About right Too much
Amount of time that students have gym class each week        
Amount of space in the gym       
Amount of time for recess each day        
Playground equipment that promotes physical activity       

All information is the sole property of the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.  It can only be used if there is an acknowledgment that "The information came from, is copyright by and is owned by and belongs to the Regents of the University of Michigan and their C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. It cannot be republished or used in any format without prior written permission from the University."

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
Director: Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Associate Director: Sarah J. Clark, MPH
Manager & Editor: Dianne C. Singer, MPH
Data Analyst: Amy T. Butchart, MPH

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Kids and Gym Physical Activity Exercise