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Health Econ. 2007 Dec;16(12):1287-301.

The impact of state physical education requirements on youth physical activity and overweight.

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Department of Policy Analysis and Management, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA.


To combat childhood overweight in the US, which has risen dramatically in the past three decades, many medical and public health organizations have called for students to spend more time in physical education (PE) classes. This paper is the first to examine the impact of state PE requirements on student PE exercise time. It also exploits variation in state laws as quasi-natural experiments in order to estimate the causal impact of PE on overall student physical activity and weight. We study nationwide data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System for 1999, 2001, and 2003 merged with data on state minimum PE requirements from the 2001 Shape of the Nation Report. We find that high school students with a binding PE requirement report an average of 31 additional minutes per week spent physically active in PE class. Our results also indicate that additional PE time raises the number of days per week that girls report having exercised vigorously or having engaged in strength-building activity. We find no evidence that PE lowers BMI or the probability that a student is overweight. We conclude that raising PE credit requirements may make girls more physically active overall but there is not yet the scientific base to declare raising PE requirements an anti-obesity initiative for either boys or girls.

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