Kids who used to sweat about going to gym class have little to worry about as those classes continue to disappear. The same holds true for the big kids at colleges and universities.
Physical education (PE) requirements were dropped by more than half of the four-year institutions across the US, according to a new study.
Researchers said the lack of PE "seems counterintuitive" as the number of those who are overweight and obese keeps climbing, and being active is key to maintaining health.
Researchers, led by Brad Cardinal, PhD, professor in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Sciences at Oregon State University, looked at how often PE was required to graduate at colleges and universities across the US.
The study included 354 four-year institutions found through the University of Texas at Austin, excluding seminaries and specialized professional schools.
The institutions date back to 1920 when PE was required in 97 percent of those schools, the highest level ever.
Most of the included institutions were private and part of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance's Eastern District, followed by the South.
Graduation requirements were gathered through each institution's website. Specifically, researchers tracked whether a wellness, health or physical education program was in place, what kind of credit students received from the program or classes and the nature of the requirement, if it existed.
They found that more than 60 percent of the institutions did not have any physical education requirement.
Among the schools that did not require it, a little less than 10 percent allowed PE to count as an elective credit.
At schools where credit was required, PE accounted anywhere between zero and nine credit hours. The schools were typically private and often required activity-based course work combined with lectures and labs.
Shrinking budgets and an increased focus on academics are major causes of the PE decline at public elementary and secondary schools, and researchers said the same reasons may be behind the decrease of PE requirements at universities.
Dr. Cardinal said exercise pros and scientists may need to lead the way in getting PE required again in schools.
"A public university should provide a way for people who may be intimidated by state-of-the-art facilities, or may be unfamiliar with even the basic concept of working out, a way to learn about basic health and physical activity," he said in a press release.
The authors noted that the labels used to identify PE programs may differ across each institution and that schools may offer alternatives to PE, which may skew results. They also left out two-year institutions.
The study was published online January 7 in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport by the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. Funding information and conflicts of interest were not available.