Parents and Principals Could Better Prioritize Kids' Physical Health, Study Finds

June 24, 2019

boy on ropesnew study from Active Schools shows that while most parents and school principals believe in the importance and benefits of physical activity at school, their behaviors do not always reflect that.

Active Schools and its parent organization, Action for Healthy Kids, developed and funded two surveys, one for parents of school-age children and one for principals. In total, 1,015 parents and 1,019 principals from all 50 states and the District of Columbia completed the surveys, which were administered and analyzed by NORC at the University of Chicago. 

Among the key findings:

  • The vast majority of respondents, 81 percent of parents and 93 percent of principals, believe that children and adolescents who are physically active are better learners.
  • Most parents (87 percent) and principals (83 percent) believe schools should have the same responsibility for students’ physical, academic, and social and emotional learning, but only half of principals (50 percent) said their schools address all three equally.
  • Over half of parents (54 percent) and principals (53 percent) said it is extremely or very important that their school is an active school--one that provides students with opportunities to be physically active before, during, and after the school day. Sixty percent of parents and 47 percent of principals said their school meets this definition.
  • Forty-eight percent of parents and 62 percent of principals said physical activity in the classroom is extremely or very important. Eight-nine percent of principals said that at least some of their teachers integrate physical activity in this way. However, 41 percent said that less than half do, and 10 percent said none do.

Additionally, the study found clear places where parents, principals, physical education teachers, and students could improve communications about physical activity:

  • Thirty-nine percent of parents reported communicating with their child’s principal about physical activity programs during the past school year; only 12 percent of principals, however, reported that parents did so very or somewhat frequently
  • Only 37 percent of parents talk frequently with their children about what they are learning in physical education class, and only 28 percent said they observed or participated in their child’s physical education class during the past school year. Six in 10 parents said they volunteered for at least one physical activity program or event at their child's school, most often Field Day (40 percent). Eighty-eight percent of parents, however, said they would be willing to help with at least one of the 13 physical activities listed.

Charlene Burgeson, executive director of Active Schools, said in a post about the study that "When competing priorities come into play, it is often the physical aspect of education that gets deprioritized." She challenges educators to think of ways to add more physical activities to their schools, and parents to engage with their children’s physical education teachers, principals, and the kids themselves about physical activity.

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