The Impact of State Physical Education Requirements on Youth Physical Activity and Overweight
Health Economics, Vol. 16, No. 12, pp. 1287-1301, 2007
Posted: 31 May 2008
To combat childhood overweight in the U.S., 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 physical activity and overweight. It also exploits variation in state laws as quasi-natural experiments in order to estimate the causal impact of PE on student 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 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 that there is not yet the scientific base to declare raising PE requirements an anti-obesity initiative for either boys or girls.
Keywords: obesity, physical activity, education, instrumental variables
JEL Classification: I18, I28
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation