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Then and Now: Health & Physical Education Over the Last 30 Years

The national standard of physical education and health in school has evolved quite a bit over the last 30 years.  In recent years, efforts have been made to refocus the nation's attention on the importance of physical activity for children.

Studies have shown that getting 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day is imperative to healthy mental, physical, and emotional development in youths.

Many studies have been done that indicate that regular physical activity helps a child improve academic performance, attitude, and behavior.

This article looks back at the history of physical education over the last 30 years.  From the schoolhouse to the courthouse, decisions were (and are still being) made that affect PE standards to this day.  Are you up on your knowledge?


Congress passed Resolution 97, which encourages state and local governments to partner with educational agencies to provide high quality daily physical education programs for all K-12 students.

National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) conducts the first Shape of the Nation Survey.  NASPE standards are as listed:

  • Standard 1 - The physically literate individual demonstrates competency in a variety of motor skills and movement patterns.
  • Standard 2 - The physically literate individual applies knowledge of concepts, principles, strategies and tactics related to movement and performance.
  • Standard 3 - The physically literate individual demonstrates the knowledge and skills to achieve and maintain a health-enhancing level of physical activity and fitness.
  • Standard 4 - The physically literate individual exhibits responsible personal and social behavior that respects self and others.
  • Standard 5 - The physically literate individual recognizes the value of physical activity for health, enjoyment, challenge, self-expression and/or social interaction.

The next 30 years will be a test to how effectively schools and programs can develop students to meet these standards.


SPARK founded as a collection of research-based programs to study physical activity and nutrition.  

Spark's foundation and re-structuring marks a shift in the study of physical activity and education from standard-based health metrics to a holistic approach to education as a whole.  Researchers became interested in understanding how physical activity affected overall class performance, not just in Phys-Ed classes, but in STEM and the Humanities as well.


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services puts forth two PE and fitness goals for elementary, middle and high schools:

  1. Increase physical education participation by 50%
  2. Increase physical education class time by 50%


The American Academy of Physical Education changes it's name to the American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical Education, publishing a Consensus on Physical Activity, Fitness and Health.  

This publication defined physical activity as "any body movement produced by the skeletal muscles that results in a substantial increase over the resting energy expenditure."  

What does this mean?  It means that the academic definition of physical activity was no longer limited to exercise, but could include household chores, occupational work, and active play.


SPARK publishes the results of a 2 year study, conclusively determining that intensive health and physical education-driven curriculums, taught by trained specialists, directly contributed to the increased health and fitness of students in those programs.

However, the study found that no matter how intensive and optimized the P.E. curriculum, there was no positive correlation with health and physical activity outside of class.  The challenge moving forward, would be in keeping children active on their own time.


President George W. Bush signs the No Child Left Behind Act, which has been attributed to the disappearance of physical activity and recreation time for children due to an increased focus on classroom time and test preparation.

Many have criticized NCLB for putting a damper on children's physical development and well-being, as many studies have shown that increased classroom and study time does not necessarily correlate with increased test scores and information retention.


A study published in the PEDIATRICS journal finds that regular physical activity during school hours improves behavior in elementary-age students.


A Harvard study finds that 91% of parents view more physical education in schools as the solution to childhood obesity.


The NFL launches the Play 60 campaign, which is designed to get kids, especially inner-city kids, involved with exercise, health, and wellness.  This campaign stresses the importance of exercising for 60 minutes a day, especially if the need cannot be met while in school.


ShapeAmerica surveys find a positive correlation between teachers who incorporate modern technology into their PE classes, and an increased interest from parents and students in their own physical education.

The technology discussed here could refer to use of the internet for resources such as video tutorials or health-focused presentations.  It can also refer to the use of pedometers, heart-rate monitors, apps, and even gaming systems like the Wii or Dance Dance Revolution.

It 2009, it's beginning to look like the threat of electronics making everyone lazy and out-of-shape, may also present a viable solution to getting kids interested in their health once again.


First lady Michelle Obama starts the Let's Move! program, encouraging health education and 60 minutes of physical activity a day. It also endeavors to teach parents how to create a healthy environment for their children and supports providing affordable healthy food and healthy school lunches

The American Academy of Physical Education changes its name (again) to the National Academy of Kinesiology.


The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity identifies a correlation between perceived competence and enjoyment in physical activity.  Additionally, researchers found that for most girls, both of these things decreased over time.  This breakthrough in the gender inequity within physical education models along with the psychological variable to success within those models will inform future initiatives and directions of study.


Shape America develops and publishes the New National Standards & Grade-Level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education, which articulate the goal of physical education as a means to develop physically literate individuals who have the knowledge, skills and confidence to enjoy a lifetime of healthful physical activity.

SPARK publishes the Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program, which comes to be regarded as the national framework for physical education and physical activity.

The goals of CSPAP are: (1) to provide a variety of school-based physical activities to enable all students to participate in 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day and (2) to provide coordination among the CSPAP components to maximize understanding, application, and practice of the knowledge and skills learned in physical education so that all students will be fully physically educated and well-equipped for a lifetime of physical activity.

The five components of the CSPAP ar physical education, physical activity during school, physical activity outside of school, staff involvement, and family and community engagement.  With the cooperation of all of these components, SPARK believes we can solve the health crisis facing youth in America.


Shape of the Nation reports that the majority of U.S. states are failing to reach benchmarks set in previous years.  It was found that less than half of all state curriculums mandate a minimum amount of time set aside in a school day for physical activity.

Additionally, only Oregon and the District of Columbia allot the recommended time to physical activity in school.

Physical Education Today

For all the research and planning in the fields of health and physical education, the practice and implementation are still lacking. The challenge presented to not just educators, but all of us, is to encourage physical activity in children and adolescents.

National PE standards can only go so far and do so much.  It is ultimately the role of the community to change hearts and minds to get kids interested in outdoor physical activity.  Sometimes, all it takes is a good playground to get kids out the door.

At, we're committed to not just playground construction, but outdoor recreation in general. Spruce up your local community ambiance with our variety of benches, tables, and more.  Whether you're a school looking for an upgrade, or a downtown association looking to beautify a historic block, we're ready and willing to be your number one resource.  Call us today!

Written by: Ben Thompson