Physical Activity Among School Age Children

I am looking at physical activity among school ages children K-12. Physical Education programs and recess are being cut across the country, so that more time and can be spent on increasing test scores. It is no secret that, today’s kids are much less active than in past generations and their health is suffering due to their lack of activity.

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I want to create a survey, or try to combine ones that already have been used, to assess how kid’s feel towards physical activity. I also am interested in their opinions on what types of activities they would like to be doing in physical education classes.

Research questions:

I think that if kids were given the ability to choose the activities offered in Physical Education class, they will be more actively involved in the activity since they picked it.

I think that if given the choice, kids will pick lifestyle activities as opposed to team sports, which is the current popular focus of physical education.

There will be no difference in the amount of physical activity between inner city kids and rural kids.


There is an epidemic brewing in this country now, with the lack of physical activity among children and adults. This lack of activity has lead to an exponential increase in obesity related diseases. The lack of physical activity is being confounded by school districts that are cutting recess and physical education programs. At this point “nearly 40% of American elementary schools either eliminated or were considering eliminating recess” [1]. It has been documented many times that lack of physical activity leads to a decrease in the quality of life for the individual not partaking in any physical activity. The CDC found that “the amount of TV that children watch directly correlates with the measures of their body fat” [1]. I think that children should be given a voice in what types of physical activity they would like to do in school since it is to their benefit to exercise.


It is no secret that there is a major problem with obesity in America today. One of the biggest contributing factors to this epidemic is the lack of physical activity in children. I consider myself more active than most of my peers however; even I struggled to do all the requirements for the presidential fitness test in primary school gym class. Today, “two thirds of American children can’t pass a basic physical: 40 percent of boys and 70 percent of girls ages six to seventeen can’t manage more than one-pull-up; and 40% show early signs of heart and circulation problems, according to a recent report by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports” [1]. More than just a lack of overall physical activity, children today are much more likely to be found inside. When fourth graders were asked why they play indoors rather than outdoors, one responded by saying “I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are” [1].

Although it may have always been the case, today it seems politicians are the ones who are deciding what is really important in schools and what should be left out. There is an obsession going on right now about improving math and science test scores. To increase class time for these subjects the schools are cutting out recess and physical education classes. This emphasis has led to many schools dropping their recess programs and reducing their Physical education time to a minimal. A teacher was asked about the Physical Education of her students at the school where she worked, in which she responded that “with all the testing in schools there is no time for physical education, let alone exploring the outdoors. In one of my kindergarten classes, the kids get to run to a fence and then run back. That’s their PE” [1]. I have been unable to locate any evidence that show scores on math and science tests have increased due to more time spent in the class. I have come across multiple papers claiming students that are more physical active have higher test scores than students who do not, but I have not found any scientific evidence to prove these claims. Without scientific proof I can only predict that students that are physical active will have higher test scores based on personal experience. I know that the more physically active I am the better I feel dealing with the stresses of school life.

The point of this study is to find out how we as a society can increase physical activity levels in children. It is extremely frustrating to me to think of how kids today do not have the ability to have recess and blow of some stress that has built up over the course of the day. I know from personal experience that recess was a very fun time for me and I was excited about what type of non-structured activity my friends and I were going to do that do at recess. I do not know why it does not shock more people but I cannot believe that more is not being done over the fact that today’s children are going to have a shorter lifespan than their parents generation. If my study finds that kids are more inclined to choose lifestyle activities in PE class as opposed to team sports, I feel that should be taken into account on a national level. Physical activity levels need to be increased regardless of the location of the school (inner city vs. rural). Three research questions of particular interest to me are; 1) I think that if kid’s were given the ability to choose the activities offered to them during Physical education class, they will be more actively involved in the activity since they had a role in selecting it. 2) I think that if given the choice, kids will pick lifestyle activities as opposed to team sports, which seems to be the focus of physical education today. 3) I also think there will be no difference in the amount of physical activity between inner city kids and rural kids. I will select schools from Northeastern Pennsylvania. I want to select schools that represent all types of income levels. To select the schools I will simple draw a quadrant over the state of Pennsylvania, if the school district falls in the Northeast section, a survey will be sent to that school. I will then take into account the location of that school by zip code and make sure that I have a balanced ratio of rural and inner city schools. I am doing this to determine what relationship the area in which the children live has on their levels of physical activity.

Review of the Literature

Authors Jan Fenczyn and Czeslaw Szmigiel conducted a study to determine attitudes towards physical activity among girls and boys with simple obesity. Their study found that “the attitudes of the young people towards compulsory physical exercises and active movement outside of school were tested by means of an original questionnaire developed by the authors. The results of the research show that overweight young people of both sexes attempt more often to avoid physical activity (movement) than their non-obese peers, both during physical education classes and outside school. Sex turned out to be a factor that differentiated attitudes towards physical activity. Almost total avoidance of physical activity by obese girls as compared with obese boys was observed. The boys to a greater extent than the girls did engage in physical exercise. The results of the research show the necessity for increased interaction to strengthen motivation to take up physical activities by obese pupils, particularly girls. What is also worth considering is one’s potential for physical fitness amongst young people when choosing activities, which becomes limited due to existing obesity” [2].

It has been determined from literature reviews of peer-reviewed literature that “interventions focusing on increasing activity performed during physical education were more effective than those targeting overall levels of physical activity. Strategies to promote activity during adolescence are needed to combat the decline in activity during the transition from school to work [3].

The amount of time students participate varies, depending on the school district. There is also a variation among grade levels, on the amount of time required in Physical Education. A study published in the SportsMed Journal found that, “PE times range widely from 30 minutes to 5 hours/week in the lower school grades, but in many high schools, PE is not required during of the final 2-3 years of education. Minor adjustments to current PE and/or school based PA programmes have yielded a variety of potential short-term benefits. Relative to traditional PE, it has been observed in grade 9 girls that PE classes that were oriented toward personal fitness instruction (conceptual PE) resulted in a decrease of sedentary behaviour 1 year later. Other programmes resulted in an enhancement of school spirit, increased participant self-esteem, greater academic progress, alleviation of learning disabilities, short-term amelioration in various components of physical fitness, improved fundamental motor skills and a reduced risk of juvenile delinquency. School PE interventions have also been used to control blood pressure, and cardiovascular risk factors, and to increase bone mass in both pre-pubescent children and early pubertal girls. However, not all of the benefits claimed are documented by well designed experimental studies. Furthermore, a number of controlled investigations of PE programmes have found little difference in body fat between experimental and control groups. One study showed that one additional weekly hour of PE during kindergarten was associated with a decrease of body mass index (BMI) the following school year in a sample of American overweight and borderline schools overweight girls. However, in girls with adequate BMI or in boys, no such effect was measured” [4].

An important study that was reviewed by Francois Trudeau and Roy. Shephard was The Trois-Rivieres Growth and Development study. For this growth and development study, “A total of 546 primary school students, both boys and girls, were recruited for their study. Approximately equal numbers of students were allocated to experimental and control programmes, based simply on their year of enrollment in school. Immediately preceding and succeeding years served as controls for the experimental cohort. The experimental students received 1 hour/day of a quality, specialist taught PE programme in grades 1 through 6. In the first 2 years, emphasis was placed on the learning of motor skills, and in subsequent years, a wide variety of indoor and outdoor activities were practiced with a view to developing both aerobic and muscular endurance. The primary objective of the intervention was to keep all students as active as possible throughout the nominal class hour of PE. The intensity of activity was checked by telemetry and further proof of an effective intervention was seen in significant increases of physical fitness. The experimental intervention was terminated when the children left primary school for high school, at an age of 11-12 years, but participants were recalled when they had reached the age of 30-35 years. At this later stage in their life course the authors examined perceived PA, lifestyle, attitudes towards PA and selected physical fitness variables in a sub sample of participants and controls. The long term effects of the intervention were assessed by two types of comparison: (i) between members of the original experimental and control cohorts; and (ii) between experimental subjects and a matched cohort of controls from other parts of Quebec who had participated in a province wide survey of PA and health. The latter comparison was intended to check for potential cross contamination between experimental and control subjects. Such contamination was minimal during the intervention phase of the study, but remained a distinct possibility in subsequent years particularly for the rural cohort. Although >20 years had elapsed since the intervention, 76.8% of experimental subjects were able to recall the name of their PE teacher in primary school and 71.4% remembered that they had received five PE classes per week. Among women from the experimental group, the percentage currently participating in at least three sessions of strenuous activity per week was substantially higher in the experimental than in the control sample (42.1% vs. 25.9%). However, no such difference was observed among men. One question asked of the subjects was: “do you exercise or perform physical work at least three times a week”? In females only, a positive answer to this question (i.e. a higher frequency of current weekly PA) was significantly associated with previous participation in the enhanced primary-school PE programme. Females exercising more than three times per week had previously also been more involved in intense, organized intense, non-organized intense and recreational intense PA as well as in PE instruction. The association between enhanced primary school PE and an exercise frequency higher than three times per week as an adult confirmed previously reported findings” [4].

Trudeau and Shephard also found a survey of retrospective questions of adults in Dallas, Texas. This “revealed a surprising prevalence of negative attitudes towards exercise imposed at school. Adult PA was lower when the frequency of being forced to exercise before adolescence was higher. However, it was unclear if PE was considered as much an imposed PA as organized sports” [4].

There are many different types of interventions that have tried to increase Physical activity. It was found that “among children, studies that focused on increasing physical activity during physical education lessons, as well as incorporating curriculum and/or environmental changes, were more effective than curriculum only interventions. Previous research suggests that children may compensate for higher levels of PA during school by reducing their PA outside school. Interventions that utilized activity breaks and those that made simple environmental changes in the school setting also showed promise. Although not always reported, such strategies are likely to be sustainable, little training is required, and they are likely to promote less structured types of physical activity that can be performed any time with little equipment” [5].

Although PA decline among boys is becoming smaller, among girls it seems to be increasing. PA decline was basically the same 21% between self reported (questionnaire) and objective (accelerometry) measure in an analysis of a sub sample of adolescents from 11-12 to 13-14 years old. The decrease in PA may be positively associated with its baseline level, although a possible effect of regression to the mean phenomenon may not be ruled out. That is, those with high levels of baseline PA can potentially present a large decrease in PA levels, compared with those who start with lower PA levels. The decline seems to be higher in adolescents of low socio-economic level and lower in adolescents with more social friend support. It was presumed that physical activity level declined during the lifespan, particularly in adolescence. However, there were no studies quantifying this change or pooling results for a common interpretation. Having conducted a systematic review of the international literature, we found consistent evidence showing that physical activity declines over adolescence. On average, the mean percentage physical activity decline per year, across all studies reviewed, was 7.0% (95% CI: 8.8 to _5.2). Although earlier studies revealed a higher physical activity decline among boys, the decline has been greater among girls in more recent studies. Moreover, although the decline among girls was greater at younger ages (9-12 years old), among boys it was greater at older ages (13-16 years old). Interventions that attempt to attenuate the physical activity decline, even without an increase in physical activity levels, could be considered as effective [6].

Purpose and Rationale

The purpose of this study is to find out why kids are not as physical active today as kids of previous generations. Some barriers as to why they do not like to do physical activity are listed as “lack of facilities, such as playgrounds, gyms, sporting grounds, swimming pools, green spaces or cycle lanes, as well as safety issues that include too much traffic, the presence of teenage gangs, no or unclear traffic signs and bad condition of cycle lanes and footpaths. Conditions at school are often not optimal either, due to too short breaks and lack of space to play. Lack of organized activities for younger children and lack of sports organizations contribute to children doing little physical activity. Low-income families regarded the price of doing sports in a sports club as a major obstacle, although they would see the participation of their children in organized activities as a way to keep them in a safe environment” [7]. It is very important that this epidemic be understood and fixed in today’s society. The independent variables for my study will be gender, age and zip code of the school districts involved in the study. The dependent variables of my study are how much physical activity do they participate in daily, if the children do any physical activity, and what types of physical activity do they choose to do. If it comes back that students would rather play team sports, more research needs to be done to figure out why then do students have such low physical activity levels if they are most interested in team sports. Perhaps liability issues have discouraged schools from allowing students to play pick-up basketball and football games on school grounds, so kids have nowhere to play their team sports that interest them the most. I do not really understand why common sense cannot be employed by people today. If my kid(s) were playing pick-up basketball and broke an arm or were injured some other way, I would not even think of it being anyone’s fault. Things sometimes happen when kids are being kids and it should not be the schools fault. Without threat of legal action, kids may be provided use of school grounds during time off from school, thus being able to play teams sports with their friends. However if my hypotheses do come true it is extremely important to implement this study’s findings. Children today need to be given the opportunity to be physical active and start reversing the health complications that they may have started by being so inactive.


A search of relevant peer reviewed literature was conducted by using EBSCOhost. Academic Search Complete, Alt HealthWatch, CINAHL, Education Research Complete, Health Source, MEDLINE, SocINDEX, SPORTDiscuss were selected for use on this topic. Physical activity in youth, attitudes towards physical activity, effectiveness of physical activity interventions, effectiveness of physical activity campaigns, youth and outdoor education were all different searches I did in order to find relevant sources. Sources were used if the seemed to provide information specifically on physical activity in youth or they provided insight on the barriers between youth and physical activity. I am interested in increasing physical activity in all children grades K-12. I had to piece together different studies because the ones I was able to find were very specific on ages. For example, ages 9-11 or ages 6-10 or high school students only were what some studies were focused on. Physical activity levels are a problem for all ages of children today and it needs to be increased for all ages of people infant to adult. I would like to sample schools from varying economic backgrounds. I do not believe there will be a difference in the amount of Physical activity between inner city children and rural children, however the activities they might wish to do, may differ. I will provide students K-12 with a survey so that their attitudes, what they would like to have offered, and what they would like to change can be accessed. I will select 250 schools, equally representing inner city, rural, and suburbs schools. They will be put into groups based on the median salaries for each town that the schools are located in. I think that rural schools will choose activities that are less expensive and more outdoors in nature, such as hiking, fishing, camping etc. I predict that inner city kids may choose activities such as wall-ball, or playing in the park. I predict that children going to schools in the suburbs will choose to do activities that tend to cost more money, such as skiing or snowboarding, indoor rock climbing gyms and fitness centers. I also am predicting that regardless of the area each student lives, they will pick one of these lifestyle activities as opposed to organized team sports where it can be more embarrassing for students that do not possess the skill level needed to do team activities, like football, volleyball and baseball to name a few.

At this point I am gathering data to show that there is a need to provide alternatives to the current curriculum in physical education. Kids should have the choice on which physical activities they wish to pursue so that they are more likely to find activities that they continue to do for the rest of their lives. It is highly unlikely that team sports, such as football and volleyball, will be played by anyone once they get out of high school and college. People at that point in their life are much more likely to run, bike, or hike, and if they have prior experience doing these activities they will be much more comfortable doing that by themselves when they are out of grade school. I will not manipulate the experiment in any way. I wish to find out what students with ranging demographics, want to do for physical activity and why they do not do any now.

I am looking to provide participants with the ability to have input on what they would like to see being taught to them. I think that students know that it is not healthy to not exercise, but that they are not interested in what they are being provided with as options for physical activity. Once information is collected on what types of activities they wish to be given the opportunity to do, I believe that their opinions should be taken seriously and be given significant consideration by the teachers when creating their lesson plans. The information from my research will be more for the benefit of the teachers and other physical activity instructors, so that they can see how to best provide others with the information that they need to be the most physically active that they can be in their daily lives.

Statistical Tools to be Employed

Data gathered from my survey comparing grade level vs. grade level, ordinal data, and the amount of physical activity ( ratio data, min/day), will need to use a T-test independent samples to analyze this data. Data from my survey set it up comparing gender, nominal data, and the amount of physical activity (ratio data, min/day), a T-test independent sample like above to analyze the data. Information comparing zip code (inner city vs. rural, nominal) and amount of physical activity (ratio data, min/day), will also need to use a T-test independent sample.

I will create a survey, Likert type scale, and then look at how those scores ranked when comparing gender and zip code with the type and amount of physical activity. A Mann-Whitney U test will need to be preformed when looking at the data generated from my likert scale when comparing zip code and gender with this scale.

The data collected will help determine what factors impact Physical Activity levels in kids in relation to their difference in gender or zip code. I also will be able to draw conclusions on what type of Physical Activities that kids would prefer to do if given complete control over what activities they were offered at school. From this, it can be recommended what could possibly be done in order to increase the levels of PA among children.

Summary of data

If my data confirms my predictions, I will be able to see what some of the reasons are as to why kids are not active today like they used to be in previous generations. I think that the increase in availability of technology has a role in why kids would rather be inside than outside. I also think parents are showing a lack of interest in spending time doing physical activity as a family now-a-days. If parents do not wish to increase physical activity levels then it must be left to the school to increase the amount of activity. In addition to physical education, schools can promote physical activity in a variety of other ways. For example, physical education teachers might provide ideas for “fitness breaks” to classroom teachers, where 5-minute aerobic activities could be used to break up the school day. Extracurricular physical activity programs may also be employed, which could coordinate physical activities with community agencies and provide physical and social environments that encourage and enable physical activity.

If there is a difference between kids living in different areas, more opportunities could be offered to expose kids from each area to more activities that they previously had no experience with. I also think more unstructured physical activity time during school or after school would go a long way in promoting physical activity for fun rather than for a specific sport or reason.