School PE lessons don't reflect kids' activity levels

September 11, 2003

The total amount of physical activity done by primary school children does not depend on how much physical education is timetabled at school because children compensate out of school, finds a study in this week's BMJ.

Over seven days, researchers measured the physical activity of 215 children from three schools with different sporting facilities and opportunity for physical education in the curriculum.

School 1, a private school, had extensive facilities and 9 hours a week of physical activity in the curriculum. School 2, a village school, offered 2.2 hours of physical education a week, and School 3, an inner city school with limited sports facilities, offered 1.8 hours of physical education a week.

As expected, pupils in school 1 recorded most activity in school time, but this was barely twice that of pupils in Schools 2 or 3, despite timetabling more than four times the amount of physical education. Surprisingly, total physical activity between schools was similar because children in Schools 2 and 3 did more activity out of school than children at School 1.

These findings are unexpected, but encouraging, because the amount of timetabled physical education offered in School 1 is unlikely to be bettered elsewhere, and children from School 3 were not adversely affected, say the authors.

Less encouraging is that girls do significantly less physical activity than boys, and may explain why more girls than boys develop type 2 diabetes in childhood.

"Our findings need confirmation but give cause for reflection on methods of collecting activity data, the provision of physical education in school, and the competing demands of the school curriculum," they conclude.


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