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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

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Not Just Playtime

SDSU professors examine physical education and its changing role in public health over the past 20 years.

The importance of physical education to public health is being revisited in an article co-written by SDSU Exercise & Nutritional Sciences Professor Emeritus Thomas McKenzie and Professor Emeritus Jim Sallis in the Psychology Department, now at UCSD.

The two take a look back over the past 20 years at the changing role of physical education in public health.

The article, which appears in the June 2012 issue of Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sports (RQES), takes a glass half full/half empty approach by examining major accomplishments and areas needing improvement in physical education. The pair of professors wrote their first article of the same title back in 1991.

Among the accomplishments cited since that original article includes physical education now being recognized more seriously for its public health value.

“Over the past 20 years, more public health groups have called on schools to be proactive in promoting a physically active and healthy lifestyle to prevent and control obesity and other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease,” McKenzie said.

Improvement needed

The authors also point to other positives such as the creation of evidence-based physical education programs  available for implementation in  school settings, increased federal support for studying physical activity, and the growth of research evidence linking with academic achievement.

However, the authors boldly address areas still needing improvement, including the lack of state support for P.E., limited accountability for programs, and the damage done by an increased focus on improving standardized test scores after the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act.

“This policy (No Child Left Behind) creates an environment where physical education is viewed as non-essential,” McKenzie said.

The authors also recommend increasing the amount of physical activity provided in existing physical education programs.

"Those in the physical education field need to take responsibility for ensuring that programs in the school setting have optimal public health benefits,” Sallis said.

“It does not mean abandoning all other physical education goals, rather, ensuring that health goals are primary.”

“Physical Education’s Role in Public Heath: Steps Forward and Backward over 20 Years and HOPE for the Future” is published in the latest issue of  Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sports, and can be accessed online.

About McKenzie and SPARK

While at SDSU, McKenzie and Sallis developed their own research-based physical education program, Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids, which involves an activity-based curriculum, staff development, and on-site follow-up. Started in 1989, the SPARK programs are being widely disseminated nationally.